A professional psychologist depicts her difficult childhood in a Virginia commune during the late 1960s and early ’70s.
Eugster’s debut memoir often surprises, occasionally strains credulity—does she really remember verbatim long conversations from her 11th year?—and generally saddens. After a brief introduction, she launches into one of her most disturbing memories: a natural childbirth she witnessed at age eight. Struck by nausea, she slipped away and returned only for a meal that included steaming broth—made, she learned too late, with the just-expelled placenta. The narrative then retreats a little, relating why the author’s parents split (an attempt at open marriage that didn’t work out) and how, later, her eccentric mother decided to cash out various investments and start a communal-living project called “Future Village.” (Still later, as the community branched out into a Summerhill-type free school, the name became “Nethers.”) Mom moved herself and three daughters to a succession of rural Virginia retreats, where the author watched a motley variety of people come and go. Most didn’t stay long, which was probably a good thing: Many seemed marginally sane, sexually stunted and/or socially challenged. A few times, Eugster leaps into the present to record conversations with her still-weird mother, including one touching exchange about what happens when adults force their dreams on their young. The author’s education at Nethers was sporadic. She read voraciously, once attempting Moby-Dick in a treetop, but took her own desultory time learning much else. Years passed. She spent some idyllic interludes with her father, who seemed vaguely puzzled by it all, and eventually made it to college. After an extended period of adjustment, she got over her commune years—sort of.
Eugster recalls some powerful memories, but they’re too often buried in an undisciplined narrative with too many superfluous details.