by Rebecca Brown
This book collects essays loosely woven together by the theme represented in the title.
What they are really about is understanding who you are now in relation to who you were as a child, to who your parents were then, and what that might or might not mean about who you are now. Brown is old enough (she was born in 1956) and apparently has done enough personal work to be recounting these stories without fierce anger or bitterness. Her parents are gone. They helped shaped who she is, but she’s the one responsible for living her life.
In the opening piece, Brown imagines a heaven for her parents. Not in the deeply religious sense, but in the “I’ve wished I believed in some place I could imagine them” sense. I was struck by this, though I haven’t imagined the same for my mother, who died nearly ten years ago. I understand the impulse to come to a place of peace, and that perhaps a new level of understanding the story of your parents may be possible once their story is over.
Another standout essay is “Nancy Booth, Wherever You Are” about teenage Brown’s giant crush on a camp counselor who recognized and shared her difference, and generously offered connection. Anyone who has firsthand experience dealing with depression will identify with “Description of a Struggle”. These kinds of stories, of the hard and good and hard and not so good moments, are hard to tell well. Brown is the kind of storyteller who can do this vital and important work, without it being in your face that is what she’s doing.
I’m glad I found this collection at forty. I probably would have read it, along with the stories I first discovered in college, and it wouldn’t have meant as much to me then as it does now.