In this slightly fictionalized memoir, a young girl suffers horrific abuse for years after being scapegoated by her disturbed mother.
When Tuesday is 8 years old, her mother undergoes a severe personality change after a frontal-lobe injury. One day she tells the girl she’s in big trouble (Mama won’t say why), so Tuesday must stand with her face against the wall, all day long, every day. Turning around warrants a beating. As time goes on, Tuesday’s punishments for the unsaid crime grow crueler and more bizarre. Soon she has to wear a mask because Mama is tired of looking at her ugly face. Mama forces her to drink curdled milk and eat leftover scraps from everyone else’s meals—gristle, half-chewed meat, soggy cereal. Tuesday must go to school without underpants, or go unwashed, or with ugly, ill- fitting clothes. Throughout the years of mistreatment, her father’s only intervention is to send Tuesday to her grandmother for the summer; the return of school means more beatings, humiliation, isolation and starvation. When Tuesday fights back, at 15, she’s finally sent to live with her aunt. Byrne (Flashes, 2011) conveys a horrifying story “inspired by true-life experience,” according to the jacket copy, and though it’s well-written, it’s also very hard to take because the prose so vividly and evocatively portrays suffering. Even mild examples retain the underlying horror of her situation, as when her starvation compels her to eat paper: Notebook pages are “sweet and starchy”; construction paper is too bitter and spongy; but she loves the school’s toilet paper—“Without any ink, dye, or glue, it tasted pure, and it had more of the woody, almost nut-like flavor I had grown to love.” Also hard to take is her father’s passiveness, partly because Byrne is too easy on him. He tells Tuesday that intervention “could break up the family” and Mama “wouldn’t be able to take care of herself … she can’t even write a check on her own.” After Daddy dies, Mama becomes a nurse and does just fine, but Byrne merely mentions the change. There’s a curious lack of the real anger—rage, even—that would be expected, and no mention of how Tuesday has (or hasn’t) worked through these experiences as an adult. It’s as if the reader is meant to supply those emotions for the writer. Also, the ending doesn’t quite ring true—unlike nearly all that has gone before.
This true-life-inspired account of child abuse from a monstrous mother is well told but painful to read and premature in its resolution.