A deathbed confrontation frames Niklas’ account of a fraught relationship with her troubled, abusive mother.
The author’s biological mother, Zodie Victor, faced death at the age of 52 after years of hard living. Gale, Zodie’s eldest daughter, and the author, her youngest, gathered at her bedside in the hospital. Niklas tells of deciding to finally confront her mother and then recounts what she says were years of instability and abuse at her parent’s hands. She narrates her troubled childhood, which she portrays as terrifying and complex due to her mother’s multiple failed relationships, violent mood swings, and addictions to alcohol and prescription drugs. Her parent’s issues, she says, endangered her and her sister on multiple occasions. Specifically, the author writes that one of her mom’s husbands molested her, and another frequently got into physical and verbal altercations with her mother. After the teenage Gale managed to leave the family, Niklas was left to fend for herself and serve as her mother’s caretaker. When Niklas was finally sent by the state to live with her best friend’s family, it led to a tug of war between her mother and the Dimocks for Niklas’ love and attention. While her mother attempted to bribe Niklas with pets, clothing, and trips to the movies, the Dimocks showed her simple love and care, allowing her to have a true childhood. The author spent years torn between her loyalty to her biological mother and her intense desire for a “normal” existence. As she grew into the adult that stood at her mother’s bedside, she also learned how to stand up for herself and determine her own needs. Niklas’ account of her experiences is often intense and occasionally poetic, such as when she compares herself to an embryonic chick and expresses a desire to develop before she’s “cracked” like an egg. She returns to certain ideas so often they become mantras, including her preoccupation with being a “good girl” and her frequent meditations on her mother’s favorite phrase, “blood is thicker than water.” Such belabored phrases, as well as the somewhat clunky philosophizing at the memoir’s end, detract from the overall reading experience. However, they don’t take away from Niklas’ message of strength and resilience.
A memoir about overcoming abuse and finding a true definition of family that’s uplifting, upsetting, and repetitive by turns.