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A Memoir in Pieces

by Mary Allen

Pub Date: May 10th, 2022
ISBN: 978-1-4218-3715-4
Publisher: Blue Light Press

A memoir of salient moments.

In a narrative constructed as a collage of vignettes, writing coach Allen moves back and forth through time, capturing the elusive, onrushing past. Pain is a throughline, beginning when she was a child, fearful of her mentally ill mother. For many years, she lived with a foster family, sheltered from her mother’s rages. The “suppressed tornado of sadness and shame planted inside me by my mother, perhaps even partly belonging to my mother, her self-hatred transformed into my own through the alchemy of abuse,” she writes. Losses recur: Allen’s sister died of ALS; her mother, of ovarian cancer; her fiance committed suicide. The author chronicled his death and her search for his “ghost, his spirit, whatever it was that was left of him,” in an earlier memoir, The Rooms of Heaven (1999). In 1991, Allen was working at the University of Iowa when a graduate student, angry because he believed he was being treated unjustly, killed five members of the physics department. Comparing the harrowing experience with how it was later understood by others, the author sees how “truth is subject to shape-shifting and misinterpretation.” Various therapies have alleviated some of Allen’s pain: A hypnotist helped her overcome her fear of flying; and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy proved to be “one of the most magical, otherworldly things I’ve ever been exposed to.” Meditation, too, helped her find her “true self: fearless, steady, unassuming.” Allen pays homage to many friends, notably author William L. Shirer, whom she met when he was 82 and she 26 and working as an editorial assistant at Little, Brown. Though sadness pervades the text, Allen ends on a hopeful note: While on an airplane, “something inside me opens up and a wild sense of freedom rushes in, and I think, not for the first time, of how wide the world is, how full of possibilities.”

Quiet, touching reflections on loss, grief, and self-discovery.