ELIZABETH by Mary Elizabeth Moloney


Learning to Dress Myself from the Inside Out
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Ex-nun Moloney’s debut memoir chronicles a life bound by the expectations of others, turned around with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous, Jungian analysis and New Age spirituality.

Moloney’s story unfolds from deep within, to such a degree that readers who do not share that perspective may find it difficult to comprehend. This tale of a woman freeing herself from Catholicism and family to discover her voice loosely hinges on the theme of an entire life spent being shopped for by an overbearing mother. Readers may find it hard to form even this most basic picture, however, because the explanatory language needed to orient the story is missing. Too often, a scene is told in a way that makes it appear neutral or even positive, while adverbs or adjectives coloring the narrator’s pronouncements reveal she meant the scene to be taken a different way. When the narrator is asked if she would like to become a nun, she not only agrees but sheds tears as she tells her mother, “Your joy’s so deep.” She seems happy to join the sisterhood, but, leading up to her induction, she says she “slavishly obeyed,” leading to complete surprise when readers infer that she did not want to join the church. Although the author feels oppressed by her mother—on the very first page she calls their relationship the “shameful secret of my total enmeshment with Mother”— the portrait of their relationship seems rather ordinary and not extremely unhealthy. When her mother asks the narrator about an item of clothing she’s wearing, the dialogue recounted sounds like her mother is being neutral or even flattering; much to readers’ surprise, she goes on to say how angry her mother’s statement made her feel. As a result, readers are confused as to what conclusions they are supposed to draw about the scenes depicted. Eventually, the author leaves the church, marries then divorces a man, discovers Jungian analysis and New Age concepts like the “Sacred Feminine.” Some descriptions in the book are interesting, particularly scenes of the author’s strict upbringing, life in a convent and career as a social worker in New Orleans.

Moloney says she found her voice through writing her memoir; readers, however, may not be able to follow what she’s saying.

Pub Date: Feb. 21st, 2012
ISBN: 978-0984809707
Page count: 296pp
Publisher: Heart Whisperings
Program: Kirkus Indie
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