Back in August, I was lucky enough to be a part of the first Writers Revealed Bookclub live podcast where Meredith Hall, author of the lyrical memoir, Without a Map, allowed readers to interview her about her book and the writing process. It was a wonderful experience all the way around, as was the second one I participated in for Dani Shapiro and her novel, Black and White. The opportunity came about thanks to host of the show, Felicia C. Sullivan, whose new memoir, The Sky Isn't Visible from Here, was recently released by Algonquin Books.
Sullivan begins her powerful tale of a lost childhood and harrowing coming-of-age with her college graduation when her mother didn't "appear among the proud, applauding parents" and she knew then that she "would never see her again." With this, Sullivan plunges into a 255-page meditation on her mother, her difficult upbringing, and the effort it took for her simply to reach adulthood on her own terms. It is a broken love story from child to mother--a lament for the many betrayals and upheavals she endured at the hands of a "mother who didn't know how to be a mother...the woman who broke (her) heart." Sullivan doesn't pull any punches when looking at the realities of her mother's past or her own. As a young adult, she spiraled into her own alcoholism and addiction, mirroring her mother's struggles, before finally coming clean regarding the lies she'd told about her life to her friends and herself--and letting go of her self-destructive history to embrace her creative and inspired future.
The writing itself is spare, direct...shifting back and forth in time and circumstance, circling over memories and the things Sullivan knows about her mother and herself. I read it in one deep breath of a day and night, captivated by her story and the honest rawness of her reflections. As a writer, I openly admire those who hold themselves up for examination. Truth, and the act of telling the truth, is such a profound creative act...one I approach myself and then back off from quietly, trying not to stir up any dust--preferring instead to veil my fragments in fictional characters who bear little more than an inconsequential shred of emotional resonance with my own history. Still, writers who do manage this self-revelation on the page fascinate me...and Sullivan's book was breathtakingly close to the bone in many places. As a mother, I found myself wanting to identify in some way with Sullivan's mother as she struggled to find her role through difficult circumstances. This isn't a foreign concept to me, a mother at a young age--after many years of proclaiming that I would never have children at all, so convinced was I of my own lack of nurturing abilities. The jarring of the "self" that Sullivan's mother experienced as a parent was something I intuitively understood, though my own commitment to my children and mothering has been very unlike hers. I also felt the daughter's role echoing somewhat in my experiences as the child of an alcoholic and absent parent in my own life. The places Sullivan was willing to travel in depth through are ones I shy away from and so this memoir felt like a true accomplishment of a woman over her reluctance to expose the reality of her past.
I highly recommend this book...so much so, in fact, that I will give The Sky Isn't Visible from Here to one random commenter below. Have you read any books lately that speak to some hidden facet of yourself or your experiences? Tell me about it, or comment about this post or Sullivan's book before next Thursday, February 28th when I will draw *one* name and mail my copy to you!