The love that binds a family—and the hidden fissures that fracture it—are revealed in this haunting memoir.
In some ways Alexander’s Irish Catholic family is a picture of strength and longevity; her parents never divorced and raised three daughters and a son without glaring dysfunctions. But there were sharp heartaches during her childhood in Corpus Christi, Texas, including a stillbirth. And there were more muted conflicts, the author writes, between “[m]y mother, ill-equipped to speak her mind, [and] my father, ill-equipped to read it”; between the author and her siblings; and between the family as a whole and her domineering father, whose return from work each day was “unceremonious, unnoticed and as far as he was concerned, unwelcome.” Alexander (Choices 86,400 a Day, 2011) traces these tensions back to her parents’ and grandparents’ hardscrabble childhoods and to their loss of loved ones and experience of disruption, and forward to the fraying ties between her parents and their adult children, especially the son who incurred her father’s anger for marrying outside the church. Eventually, in her parents’ old age, as the author pushes their wheelchairs and tends to their frailties, wounds and estrangement partially heal amid a renewed sense of all they share. Alexander lays out this history obliquely in a series of fleeting, fragmentary, poetic vignettes, often no more than a solitary paragraph or stanza, that merge into a pointillist tapestry. Her prose is quiet, but it has a luminous immediacy—“One morning I saw my mother spellbound by sunlit patterns on the kitchen counter, the ladder slats of the window blinds tilted just right”—that brings the plainest domestic scene to life; her voice is restrained, yet she uses it to convey intense emotions. As much as this book is about disappointment, grief and regret, it’s also about the affection and longing that make those feelings so painful.
An album of finely wrought, moving impressions of relationships and buried feelings.