A debut memoir recounts one woman’s emotionally dysfunctional upbringing.
This is an unusual remembrance not only because it largely covers Rabuzzi’s (Mother and Child, 1994, etc.) life only until the end of high school or because of her accounts of abuse, but because she chose to recount her experiences from the perspective of “Alicia,” a kind of youthful alter ego. While growing up in Vermont, Alicia distinctly felt the absence of her father, Howard, whose enlistment in the military following Pearl Harbor kept him away for so long that she didn’t immediately recognize him upon his return. Her mother, referred to as “Mama” throughout the book, was an accomplished biochemist but a remarkably immature person who married her husband on impulse. After Howard returned from the war, instead of pursing his credentialed profession as an attorney, he purchased a farm in rural Unadilla, New York, and relocated the family there. Alicia’s childhood is depicted as both lonely and unstable; her evenings were largely devoted to the completion of chores by herself, while her parents overindulged in alcohol and relentlessly attacked each other. The family never seemed to have enough money for the most basic goods, let alone birthday parties and Christmas presents. One Christmas, the family hastily decamped from a restaurant; when Alicia inquired about their rush, Howard admitted he didn’t have enough money to tip the waitress. Alicia was emotionally unprepared for social life and was often tormented by her peers both at summer camp and school. Prior to her senior year, her parents suddenly moved to Miami without informing her and sabotaged her return to school despite her aunt’s generous promise to pay for it. The conclusion offers a thoughtful meditation on how memoir messily combines fact and fiction and how the author’s recollection is designed to pay due deference to both: “So why not call Alicia’s story an out-and-out memoir? A need for some distance is my primary motive.” Much of the tale is heart-wrenching, especially as so much is told from the viewpoint of a confused and wounded child. Rabuzzi tells of traumas with impressive clarity and sensitivity and without a hint of cloying melodrama. Overall, this is a sad but gripping tale conveyed with great emotional intelligence.
An affecting autobiography that reflects philosophically on the perils of remembrance.