In his deeply personal memoir, debut author McKinley draws lessons from his brother David’s late-life suicide.
After his older brother’s suicide in 2009, McKinley wondered why his brother did it and why he didn’t succumb to suicide himself. He shares his answers in an illuminating autobiography, delving into his feeling of depression, shame and inadequacy. In Chapter 1, McKinley describes his brother’s disappearance and the family’s realization that it was suicide. He introduces the idea of “the buried man”—as if he and his brother buried the pain of self-loathing. From there, McKinley tells his life story, using Julia Cameron’s technique for healing the inner child from The Vein of Gold (1996). He writes about growing up during the turbulent ’70s in a moderately wealthy family, which slowly dissolved under the pressure of keeping up appearances. Readers learn that McKinley felt unwanted as a child; he believed bad things would happen and withdrew into childhood fantasies. Describing an evening with his parents, he says: “There were times it felt so cold in that living room I half-expected to see my own breath. The scarab scratch of pencil on paper was the only sound. We’d go on this way in silence until the fire died.” He goes on to recount his early adult life, bouncing from job to job, working in LA as a stand-up comedian, and finally settling into marriage, family and a steady career as an English teacher. Yet even into midlife, he admits being buried under suppressed rage and low self-esteem, which he medicated while refurbishing an old home—until something happened: He found a statue of a boy buried in ivy, which becomes the symbol of his life’s new direction. Rather than remaining buried in pain, he discovers the life-saving lessons his brother never learned: We should talk about our problems and ask for help, since we’re all worthy of love. McKinley’s knack for conversational, engaging writing transforms what could have been an ordinary, if tragic, tale of modern life into an intriguing read filled with exceptional insights conveyed without being preachy. Mercifully free of psychobabble, McKinley’s memoir resonates with genuine emotion.
An exceptionally well-written memoir offering insights about the darker side of the human psyche.