Debut memoir introduces us to the author’s mentally retarded sister, whom Jacobs herself did not meet until both were in their 30s.
In 1957, when Jacobs was three, her mother gave birth to twins. Laura came home; Anne, born with hydrocephalus, was institutionalized. Jacobs didn’t learn of this sister’s existence until adolescence, and even then the family almost never spoke of Anne. Her parents visited rarely. For her part, Jacobs went off to boarding school, where she developed passions for playing the piano, speaking Chinese and getting drunk. After Chatham Hall came a prestigious college, then law school and marriage, all of which Jacobs undertook with little thought of Anne. It was not until she separated from her husband and tried to overcome alcoholism for the umpteenth time that Jacobs decided to meet her lost sister. Anne, it turned out, lived at a group home not far away. Though their first encounter was awkward, the sisters began to visit each other regularly. Jacobs delved into Anne’s medical files and was stunned by her parents’ callous refusal to have any sort of relationship with Anne, their reasoning being that maintaining an unruffled upper-class life was more important than their daughter’s well-being. That Jacobs is able to depict her parents’ neglect without utterly demonizing them is a testimony to her skill as a writer. The book is filled with lovely images: The Victorian home of her childhood “sat like a dowager atop a hill”; her grandmother was “as domineering as a mother superior and as calculating as a first-class Parisian madam.” (Jacobs does tend to overuse convent imagery, likening countless people to nuns.) The epilogue brings the book to an unexpected, emotionally devastating close.
A cut above the usual I-survived-a-dysfunctional-family tale.