Thursday, February 21, 2008

SKY: a review and 300th post book giveaway

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 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 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!

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Blogger Michelle (a.k.a. la vie en rose) said...

i love me a give away...

i'm embaressed...a confess that i can't remember the last work of fiction i read...but...i have been DEVOURING poetry...and that too reveals hidden facets of the self...and no one does that better for me than sharon olds...who would have known that i'd like writing about sex as much as i do until she came along...or that one of my favorite words is fuck...until she came along and showed me how it can be used in ways it's never been used before. currently i'm reading satan says and just wrapped up the living and the dead...or the dead and the living...i can't remember the order...

2:17 PM  
Blogger angela said...

recently finished the wonder spot here. the many stories within that story have lingered.

great review, i'd love to read this one too.

2:45 PM  
Blogger daisies said...

i also love a 'give away' especially when it is the book variety. i am in the midst of yet another reading binge and am currently re-reading henry and june because there is something about the way anais nin writes that makes my heart expand. i am also reading sarah ban breathnach's a daybook of comfort and joy (its a daily exercise read that i am enjoying) and i just picked up and started echart tolle's a new earth.

angela, i loved the wonder spot ~ sooo good!!

:) thanks for the review, i love your reviews and usually end up buying the books but i'll wait until after you draw your name ...

thinking of you

6:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been curious about this book for a while and it sounds wonderful. I write a great deal about the struggles between mothers and daughters, especially the dark sides of mothers who are not proud of/emotionally present to your daughters...this sounds like a wonderful read!

Thanks for the review.

6:46 PM  
Blogger Melba said...

I often read memoirs and other non-fiction books, but recently I read The Liar's Diary because well, we both know Patry and when her paperback came out to support her and then I finally got around to reading her book.
The Liar's Diary stirred so much emotion in me. ~ The way she describes secrets without really telling...I could just so relate to the feel of the characters in her story even if our details are different.
I love being able to see myself in a book. There os something there~my need for validation~something I am trying to understand about myself. But it feels so good when I feel known.

12:29 PM  
Blogger odessa said...

book giveaway, how fun!

i'm currently re-reading certain chapters of collette's "the vagabond". i love her writing style and i can certainly relate to the main character's stuggle - to be loved vs. to be independent. i'm also reading charles simic's "walking the black cat".

5:40 PM  
Blogger Left-handed Trees... said...

i just wanted to say these suggestions are *amazing*...SO glad to read them!

7:34 AM  
Blogger bee said...

the last book of fiction i read, i just devoured - it was a complicated kindness by miriam toews. but the one that's SPEAKING to me? rumi's poems of ecstasy and longing...i had one of those moments yesterday, where i opened it randomly and i thought that this sufi mystic from 5 centuries ago was speaking directly to me:

your grief for what you've lost lifts a mirror
up to where you're bravely working.

expecting the worst, you look, and instead,
here's the joyful face you've been wanting to see.

your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
if it were always a fist, or always stretched open,

you would be paralyzed.

your deepest presence is in every small
contracting and expanding,

the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
as birdwings.

etc., etc.

i liked leaving a poem here. :)

11:16 AM  
Blogger Left-handed Trees... said...

Bee: I liked you leaving a poem as was gorgeous.

Michelle was the winner of the drawing and the Sullivan memoir is headed her way!

Thanks for these amazing reading suggestions...

3:24 PM  

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