Erickson tells of a difficult childhood and an abusive father in this debut memoir.
In the mid-1950s, just three days after she was born, the author nearly died: Her mother, a Christian Scientist, refused to get her medical help after her umbilical knot wouldn’t stop bleeding; fortunately, though, her mother relented. For the rest of the author’s childhood and adolescence, her life was defined by the very different personalities of her parents. Her mother, she says, was kind, averse to conflict, and devoutly religious, while her father often sabotaged his own ambitious plans, due in part to his alcoholism. He aspired to become a land developer and rancher, and the family spent long stretches of time on his growing ranch in the Sierra Nevada. Erickson, more than any of her four siblings, shared his love of horses and the outdoors, but their relationship, she writes, was scarred by horrific emotional and physical abuse; she says that her father shot her beloved heifer in front of her, accused her of being responsible for a horseback riding accident that crippled her mother, casually scratched her face while showing her a new bridle, and declared that he neither loved nor respected her in the middle of a family dinner. Her mother showered her with love and gifts, she says, but turned a blind eye to the abuse. Erickson reveals that she sometimes resorted to self-harm in order to feel in control. Overall, the author vividly captures her parents in this memoir, paying special attention to telling how her father’s volatility created heart-pounding anxiety, showing him to be kind one day and abusive the next. There’s particular poignancy in later chapters when Erickson portrays how her father’s alcoholism physically debilitated him and how she struggled to reconcile her own feelings of pity and guilt with memories of abuse. However, her narrative might have benefited from more observations gained from the passage of time; she adroitly captures her in-the-moment reactions as a child and a young woman but rarely looks at the long-term impact of events on her post-adolescent life.
A grueling memoir that offers a clear portrait of people and places but could benefit from more reflection and analysis.