An account of a wide-ranging life that embodies the phrase, “You can’t make this stuff up.”
Montandon (Oh the Hell of It All, 2009, etc.) has written a memoir that almost becomes a full autobiography, although it compresses her last few decades into a couple of chapters. She grew up in the 1930s in a large, dirt-poor Dust Bowl–era Oklahoma family. Her father was a preacher, and the family had to move often—sometimes because her father believed, to his credit, that black people should be welcome among his white congregation. Nonetheless, the members of her family were Old Testament fundamentalists; the focus was on hell, not heaven, and any wrong step, anything construed as loose, secular living, could send you there. She eventually grew into a statuesque stunner, which exacerbated her widowed mother’s worries. At 18, the naïve young woman married a fellow from the Air Force who turned out to be a real jerk, but guilt-ridden as always, she tried to be a good wife as they spent two years in the Azores. Finally, a very kind lover aided her in finding herself, and she also found that she’d had enough of her marriage. Stateside, she divorced Groves and wound up in San Francisco, where she blossomed, becoming a television personality, newspaper columnist, socialite and Nobel Prize–nominated peace activist. The memoir’s byword is “indomitable”; by the age of 30, despite her past trials, the author wasn’t afraid of anything and had roaring energy. (The book’s initially silly-sounding title refers to a traumatic accident that colored her whole life.) Montandon often writes well, although her style is sometimes over-the-top and her diction, sometimes purple (“My tears fell in an unbridled waterfall, pooling at my feet, flowing across the highway, creating a flood of such profound intensity that I turned on the windshield wipers”). Still, readers learn a lot about what she had to face and how she survived. She writes of how, even in later years, some of her siblings were still captives of hateful beliefs; it’s all the more striking that the author, with her native intelligence and sensibility, managed to escape such an upbringing while still loving her family.
A memoir that’s a wild, wrenching ride but one worth taking.