An uneven first memoir offers more undigested anger than wisdom.
Holloway was fixated on death from a young age. Her friend Julie’s parents owned a funeral home, and Holloway liked to sneak into her favorite coffin, lined with pink silk, and imagine her own funeral. Kids with happy childhoods, of course, don’t spend much time thinking about their funerals, and Holloway’s interest in death is something of an escape from her horrible family life. Holloway’s father is abusive, sometimes beating his wife so brutally that the kids fear for her life. Eventually, Holloway’s mother summons some resolve, signs up for college classes and kicks her husband out. But Holloway does not offer the expected my-mother-is-a-phoenix line. No, mom turns out to be thoroughly self-absorbed, and deeply limited in her ability to love her children. Besotted with her new boyfriend, she virtually abandons her daughter, leaving her to make her way through adolescence on her own: “Can’t you be happy for me?” mom asks her teenage daughter. “Why is everything about you? . . . I’ve done you my whole life. This is about me.” Sections of this memoir are eerily lovely, but the overall narrative doesn’t hold together. The funerary imagery that suffuses the opening chapters feels distractingly like a device, a symbol that, in the final analysis, doesn’t have much to do with the family drama. The final third of the book, in which an adult Holloway finally reckons with her childhood, seems like an entirely different book—the voice is different, and the elegant prose of the beginning is replaced by clichés (“Sobs finally came. I didn’t think they ever would”) and self-help psycho-babble (“There was no other way for her to recover but to let the memories come, and I couldn’t do that for her”).
For funeral-home-cum-dysfunctional-family tales, stick with Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home (June 2006).