Hart’s memoir charts her psychological process of overcoming a painful childhood.
This bittersweet collage of memories is categorized into five sections. In Part I, “Childhood by the Sea,” Hart establishes the unsettling relationship she had with her parents, both of whom belittled and terrorized her in a household mired in conditional love. The chapter “Good Mother Bad Mother” shows her father’s frightening volatility when he discovers that she’s drawn on her bedroom wall. Her mother lovingly comforts her while condemning the father’s behavior. Soon after, the mother calls her stupid and ugly, illustrating the disjointed, inconsistent parenting her mother and father practiced. In Part II, Hart recalls her boarding-school years, when she made friends and her parents divorced. Part III covers high school and beyond: Kennedy’s assassination, literary enlightenment, the importance her mother placed on appearances, her father’s continued emotional cruelty. The author explores her Jewish roots in Part IV, revealing the origins of her parents’ psychological hang-ups. In Part V, she reconciles with her parents, their faults and the person she is today. Hart’s lyrical, well-paced prose saves her story from falling into the “poor me” category of memoirs. Her smooth writing style, sharp insights and eye for detail make her family problems compelling. But while interesting separately, the somewhat fragmented vignettes are more significant because Hart has rendered them into a complete picture. Indeed, this collection illustrates Socrates’ philosophy that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” As the author begins her story at childhood, moves forward in her history, jumps back two generations and returns to her present, she shows how she internalized the external factors that were beyond her control. Each section reads as though she intuitively regressed to capture the emotional mindset of whatever age she was recalling. She also reveals how she rose above the negativity and eventually realized her authentic self. The stories culled from her memory, as well as the way in which they’re analyzed and organized, map a process of overcoming childhood adversity.
A hopeful, finely rendered portrait of a dysfunctional family and its effects on the author.