Nothing she has written drills down into her past, and her family’s, as powerfully as Memorial Drive. It is a controlled burn of chaos and intellection; it is a memoir that will really lay you out ... This is a book with a slow, steady build. This is restraint in service to release ... This memoir has eddies of joy and celebration. Trethewey writes memorably about the music Gwendolyn loved ... The second half, unexpectedly, dumps a bag of harrowing receipts on the table. Thanks to a police officer who had been the first on the scene, Trethewey has access to...her mother's police statements...transcripts of telephone calls ... Trethewey dispenses this material to powerful effect ... Memorial Drive closes like a door sucked shut by the wind ... Even though you intuit what is coming, the moment you learn of Gwendolyn’s death is...stunning.
... we see the deep saturation of luminous images and resonant meaning that Trethewey's work is known for. And while it can be tempting to take for granted this stunning language that characterizes Trethewey's poetic voice, it is important to note here the high level of craft that sustains this quality of resonant, imagistic intensity through the several hundred pages of linear prose narration that is here. In Memorial Drive, the musicality of language combines with imagistic intensity to create a world of heightened subjectivity in which the small moon that is the young Trethewey orbits the constant planet that is her mother and her entire world; thus her mother's death and its aftermath — the emptiness of her absence — rockets loud across the constellation of Trethewey's life ... This work of closely looking at the line of women in one's personal family history as far as can be discovered is a fundamental aspect of the American Black women's literary canon. This structure is characterized by the juxtaposition of personal, familial, and community history in conversation with archival texts and/or other evidence in search of identity and agency in conversation with a larger social history and ideas ... By giving this space to her mother rather than speaking for her or over her, Trethewey centers the victim of the abuse and trauma. Again, agency and voice, not erasure, is Trethewey's project here ... In this moment, Trethewey offers us a powerful way to decolonize and reconsider this question of the representation of the trauma of the self and of others. You cannot ethically represent another person's experience of trauma, Memorial Drive tells us here; you can only ethically represent the experience of your own trauma. But when engaged with representing the pain of others, Memorial Drive tells us also, one must step back and de-center the self; ethically, one must — one can only — center and amplify the voices of the those who have experienced the trauma instead.
... details are carefully chosen: sparse but vivid. Trethewey’s souvenirs from the past, inflected with the knowledge of the poet she’d become, have the intentionality of memorials, not just memories ... Much of the book’s memorializing occurs at a remove. The narrator pays unusual attention to photographs, as if only documentary evidence were trustworthy ... the book swarms with fantasy ... Trethewey inlays [police] materials directly into the book, like a witness entering facts into the record. The effect is devastating ... Trethewey offers us an unvarnished, individuated Gwen in the precise moment that she snatches her away, leaving Persephone and Eurydice, photographs and dreams, an avenue lined with memorials, everything but her.
Memorial Drive is, among so many other wondrous things, an exploration of a Black mother and daughter trying to get free in a land that conflates survival with freedom and womanhood with girlhood ... A book that makes a reader feel as much as Memorial Drive does cannot be written without an absolute mastery of varied modes of discourse ... In one of the book’s most devastating and artful chapters, Trethewey makes an unexpected but wholly necessary switch to the second person ... What happens in most riveting literature is seldom located solely in plot. I’ve not read an American memoir where more happens in the assemblage of language than Memorial Drive ... Memorial Drive forces the reader to think about how the sublime Southern conjurers of words, spaces, sounds and patterns protect themselves from trauma when trauma may be, in part, what nudged them down the dusty road to poetic mastery.
... a luminous and searing work of prose ... soul-stirring ... It is an elliptical journey of beauty and wounding ... At the risk of coming across as a selfish reader, I hasten to add that she provides a model for living with woundedness, making something usable out of the myriad details, some beautiful, others anguished. This is a specific daughter’s memoir, but it is also a daughter’s memoir in a collective sense, a way of braiding together a legacy ... The writing is quiet in the way grief often is ... she refuses melodrama ... Alongside Trethewey we read the files and uncover the evidence of how the tragedy unfolded. In the process, we learn a great deal from mother and daughter’s forbearance and insistence, even when terrorized, upon dignity. Peering into an archive of her mother’s words that were, in life, unavailable to Trethewey, mother and daughter merge. This is not ventriloquism as much as companionship, loyalty, and love across generations. In the end, we stand with Trethewey’s grief, feeling it as friends rather than voyeurs. That is perhaps what makes this book both so timely and timeless.
...transcendent ... She couldn’t save her mother, but she could reanimate her memory and welcome her spirit back into her life ... There is a twinning of documentary evidence and personal memory in much of Trethewey’s poetry, as in Memorial Drive ... Memorial Drive is a monument with a name ... Memorial Drive essentially consists of three parts, dotted with small inflection points and snippets of dreams. It bears the contours of tortured memory: natural detours and unexpected chasms, vivid flashes and black holes ... The book eschews the common memoiristic route of picking apart the aftermath of trauma ... the closing chapters of Memorial Drive are almost entirely in Gwendolyn’s words; the grace and polish of the poet’s voice recedes to reveal a monument with an iron core ... It’s an astonishing decision — to cede the stage to her mother’s words, unedited and practically bleeding on the page. It’s an act of preservation and a reckoning.
... riveting ... a tribute to a life snuffed out by a brutal man, a fractured judicial system and a patriarchy as old as Methuselah. It is also an examination of the Old South colliding with the new, a chronicle of one artist’s beginnings, and of a changing America ... Trethewey excavates her mother’s life, transforming her from tragic victim to luminous human being. She is a living, breathing dynamo, coming of age in the Jim Crow South, breaking out of the restrictions imposed on her ... This is a political book. It is the story of a woman cut down in her prime, about a sick man who imposed his control and had his way, about the larger story of power in America. The awful postscript to this story is that Grimmette was released from prison in March of last year, and is now a free man.
... an exquisitely written, elegiac memoir ... she combines the jewel-like concision of [poetry] with the propulsive drive of narrative nonfiction ... Memorial Drive is Trethewey’s gorgeous exploration of all the wounds that never heal: her mother’s, her own, and the wounds of slavery and racism on the soul of a troubled nation.
Memorial Drive is the work of a brilliant adult, reframing the insights of an uncommonly keen child, and there are times when the difficulties of recalling the child as an adult are evident ... Memorial Drive is an enduring work, beautiful and horrific. Images are the source material, and Trethewey makes smart use of them. Photographs, music and memories, combined with evidence from the murder trial, are pathways on Trethewey’s journey, which begins 'in the close arrangement of daily life with [her] mother’s family' and becomes an epic struggle, a steady working back ... The story she tells is grim and grand, like all struggles to survive. In her telling, Trethewey reveals and instructs.
... the work of a poet. A great poet ... there are moments when you pull yourself away from this work simply to admire its sheer artistry ... part investigative report; part confessional; part black, feminist and black-feminist history. It is also a look at battered women and their tragedy. But above all, this book bears witness to the Via Dolorosa of Gwendolyn Ann Turnbough ... It is too easy to say Black Lives Matter. Memorial Drive, the last address of her mother, and the location of her murder, takes us past that slogan to an analysis of oppression. And it is a testament of what I call 'Meta Africa', that terrain of the human spirit forged in the person of the enslaved African, trapped in bondage and segregation. The aim of slavery was the erasure of our origins, of our true names and language, of our memories. Trethewey’s masterpiece suggests that the greatest act of defiance a black person can do is to remember.
Three decades ago that masterly American writer Tobias Wolff published This Boy’s Life, his classic memoir of a troubled childhood and a bullying, unpredictably violent stepfather...It’s no exaggeration to say that Natasha Trethewey’s book belongs in the same exalted company ... She writes in a quiet, understated voice that, with its references to classical mythology, could be mistaken for the decorous house style of those high-minded magazines that live at the margins of American culture. Call it campus prose, if you like ... As she continues to amass modest domestic details, the measured sentences take on an awful momentum of their own ... Trethewey too is dogged by her own feelings of survivor’s guilt. With this fine book she has at least made amends.
Like her earlier collections, Memorial Drive is written with a poet’s keen ear for language and Trethewey’s knack for historical detail and retrospection. Using descriptions of photographs, dreamscapes, memories of historical events (such as Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon in 1974) and even transcripts of the final phone calls between Turnbough and Grimmette, Trethewey builds a narrative that asks: How does one get intimately close to violence and still survive? Memorial Drive proves that the answer is neither simple nor singular, and memory is only one of the avenues we travel in our quest to remember those we’ve lost.
... powerful ... a rigorous personal investigation ... The book is difficult, undaunted by its subject matter. Scenes of domestic violence are depicted with agonizing clarity; the narrator’s struggle to come to terms isn’t kept out of view, but documented on the page, inviting us into the pain of her process. Trethewey does not hold your hand. But she does guide you, confidently, into states of grace and revelation and beauty ... Trethewey revisits her Deep South childhood, offering profound meditations on her mixed-race identity, allowing bits of family lore and American history’s bloody landscape to skirt her narrative’s edges. Her love of language proves crucial: Metaphor and allegory, modes of understanding instilled by her father, become tools for finding meaning in her mother’s tragedy — a meta-argument for the value of telling one’s own story in memoir. At the heart of Memorial Drive, though, is her mother, ghostly and incomplete, but mercurial, vibrant, and curious in recollections — a complex hero, the core to every great story. In this one, it’s the root of its sadness, too: There was so much more to know.
The book is cleverly crafted, insightful and moving ... Trethewey observes astutely the ways in which racial prejudices are passed down and repeated ... There is a cool aloofness to the way Trethewey depicts Joel ... This family’s wound will not heal. But the author’s deference to the signs she perceives (or indeed creates) brings a sort of redemption. Story, symbolism, metaphor are, you could say, a sort of faith—a willed belief in something you have fabricated in order to find meaning.
It is humbling to read Grimmette’s calm, clear voice, so accomplished that even the women in the shelter where she seeks refuge when fleeing from Joel ask her for career advice. How could anyone fail to save a person of such substance? ... But even as tragedy unfolds, Trethewey herself is being forged into an artist. Readers who are now choosing books to learn more about the Black experience in America may consider prioritizing Memorial Drive for its compact but beautifully observed musings on race, family, love and even national monuments. There are no easy lessons here, but the poet provides a great gift by helping us understand that a journey so deeply marked by tragedy is one that can continue.
Natasha Trethewey, two-term United States Poet Laureate, forges a serious, poignant work of remembrance ... While Trethewey does pursue forensic exploration (transcripts of recorded phone calls between Gwen and Joel, as well as a visit to a psychic), this memoir is more introspection than true-crime investigation. And it is gracefully and gorgeously rendered, as befits a poet of Trethewey's stature ... Trethewey declines to offer a neat conclusion, but she succeeds in making meaning from pain. Memorial Drive is loving and elegiac, disturbing and incisive.
As a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and former U.S. poet laureate, Trethewey...has conducted profound excavations into African American history and her own life. In her memoir, a work of exquisitely distilled anguish and elegiac drama ... Through finely honed, evermore harrowing memories, dreams, visions, and musings, Trethewey maps the inexorable path to her mother’s murder ... [a] yrical, courageous, and resounding remembrance.
...[a] beautifully composed, achingly sad memoir ... This profound story of the horrors of domestic abuse and a daughter’s eternal love for her mother will linger long after the book’s last page is turned.
Former U.S. Poet Laureate Trethewey, winner of a Pulitzer Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship, and many other awards, begins her graceful, moving memoir with her mother’s murder in 1985 ... Delicate prose distinguishes a narrative of tragedy and grief.