Wiener is anything but subtle in this gripping memoir of her turbulent upbringing in the New York City suburbs.
When Wiener loses her mother tragically at the age of 6, rather than attempting to help his young daughter grieve, Wiener’s inattentive father hires a surly and often extremely violent nanny to raise his children. Though he ensures his children are materially cared for, Wiener’s father is neglectful of his feisty daughter’s emotional needs as she matures. In an attempt to avoid day-to-day family life, he sends them on international trips at every opportunity. To her peers, Wiener’s life must have seemed privileged and exotic with summers in Europe and extravagant ski trips; however, Wiener reveals the lifelong psychological turmoil caused by growing up with little parental supervision or nurturing. At times, Wiener’s accounts of the physical abuse she suffered at the hands of a clearly unstable nanny are so vividly intense that it’s difficult to imagine how she endured. Wiener is continually unsuccessful at her attempts to win attention or support from her father (even as he witnesses firsthand an abusive episode by the nanny) and is relieved to enter boarding school in Vermont for high school. Boarding school, however, fails to provide the acceptance she has been seeking as she struggles to fit in with peers who come from more harmonious families and backgrounds. Eventually, Wiener accepts her isolation and with the help of recreational drugs and music, she bides her time making knowingly bad decisions until she can begin her post-graduation life. A skillful writer, Wiener artfully weaves the raw emotion of her childhood suffering with the cultural experience of the United States during the 1960s and ’70s. The music and political events of the time create a strong backdrop framing Wiener’s memories and feelings without overpowering the private nature of her story.
Intimate and absorbing, Wiener’s tale successfully captures the feelings of a spirited yet lost young child growing up in a tumultuous period in American history.