... haunting, mind-bending ... a wrenching portrait of Atlantis and her role in Bonner’s life ... Bonner constructs much of her memoir from Atlantis’s emails, Facebook updates, interviews, Craigslist ads, voice mail messages and song lyrics. This collage captures both Atlantis’s mesmerizing voice and her instability. The Facebook updates — Atlantis is …, Atlantis is … — are incantatory, spellbinding. Bonner’s narrative choice to follow many of these extracts with her reactions as she experienced them in the moment can sometimes be more compelling in conception than in execution ... Bonner’s interjections throughout Atlantis’s searing 'final will and testament' douse much of that document’s fire. But if this strategy frustrates, it also provokes, refusing to supply the aestheticized reflections upon trauma that readers may expect, even crave ... Keeping the reader close to her real-time perspective also allows Bonner to pull off a riveting balancing act in the memoir’s final third, when we find ourselves on increasingly unsteady ground, forced to ask with each new twist: Is this a veritable true-crime investigation? Or is Betsy — and are we — merely 'obsessing over details and typos … doing everything I could to avoid the truth'?
... a haunting, heartbreaking, frustrating read ... offers more plot twists, shocking revelations and shady characters than most contemporary thrillers ... Bonner's voice is strong — her pain, research and need for answers the three constants that drive the book. But Atlantis occupies the core of everything. Betsy Bonner is the storyteller, but Atlantis Black is the story, the mystery, the victim, sometimes the perpetrator and always the question. Bonner presents her sister with love, but also with brutal honesty ... Social media and email enrich and complicate the narrative ... gripping and works on two levels. On the surface, there is the story of two sisters drifting away from each other and then coming back together. It is a story of siblings dealing with an abusive father who dies of cancer and a mother whose struggles with mental illness ended in suicide. Then there are the true crime elements: petty criminals, police reports, strange men who vanished, Atlantis' online life and communications with various men after she posted companionship ads, video surveillance showing a couple whom Atlantis is clearly not half of perpetrating some of the crimes she was charged with, and even the fact that she had dated the DEA agent who arrested her. Taken together, these things offer more questions than answers, and each adds a layer to the mystery of Atlantis' death ... addresses abuse and mental illness within the frame of a suicide that could have been an assisted suicide or a murder. It is a book that denies readers the satisfaction of closure, of a final answer and an explanation. Instead, this true crime and memoir hybrid takes us into the heart and mind of Bonner, the one who was left behind, and through her we experience the pain of not knowing — and the frustration of looking for answers even when the person we try to understand was as mysterious as the fabled land of Atlantis.
... an unflinching, haunting portrait of Black, the bizarre details surrounding her vanishing, and the enduring bonds of sisterhood ... Despite the shifty people Black surrounded herself with and the police reports that never quite add up, most readers will eventually find themselves questioning Bonner’s motives for her assiduous investigation into her sister’s disappearance (or death) ... With her debut memoir, Bonner has written a spellbinding page-turner, a true crime hybrid that will satisfy readers who seek out advanced literary stylings along with readers who want a wildly entertaining, suspenseful tale. Bonner’s background in poetry shows in imagistic flashbacks that illustrate coming-of-age moments and childhood mischiefs that take on a foreboding tone when juxtaposed with the reality of Black as an adult. The only thing I found missing was a deeper exploration of Bonner’s anger toward Black, touched on only briefly ... Of the many interesting narrative choices Bonner makes, my favorite is her choice to include transcribed passages from an interview with Black that was recorded three months before she vanished. The short passages are interspersed between chapters, printed in white font on black pages, to chilling effect.
... piercing ... Even more engrossing than the book’s persistent mysteries is Bonner’s hunger to understand her enigmatic sister, and to populate the empty spaces that Atlantis opened in the universe with truths. Resisting definitive pronouncements, The Book of Atlantis Black assumes the qualities of the departed musician herself: marked by yearning, it revolves around absences and is irresistible to the end.
Bonner is a poet, but the book is sparse and straightforward in its descriptions of people and action and is never lacking in grace. She strips the narrative down to the bones with no extraneous words or flowery illustrations. She writes with obvious restraint and caution, leaving readers with a trim and solemn remembrance of her unhappy, unwell, enigmatic and charismatic sister ... a tribute to a sister lost long before her death, and an examination of a woman’s spiral into darkness, danger and self-harm. Bonner honestly explores her feelings for both Nancy and Atlantis, though this is not to say that they were distinct figures in any way. In her grief is confusion, sorrow, anger and relief ... a gripping, if ultimately frustrating, read. Gripping because Bonner captures the best in Atlantis, as well as the most horribly compelling. Frustrating because there is little resolution to Atlantis’ tale, and her life, as depicted by her sister, seems on the whole to have been one of pain. It is difficult to pinpoint any substantial truths in this muddy tale: Either Atlantis was a suicidal drug addict who was in deep legal trouble, or she was at the mercy of a shadowy psychopath. Bonner is unsure, and readers will be as well. Still, there are some interesting insights here about family, hurt, loss and absolution.
Bonner paints a thorough picture of her sister’s short but intense life, searching for the truth of what happened while also attempting to find closure. This lyrical and compelling memoir shows how Atlantis changed both Bonner’s life and the lives of others with her raw talent and electric presence.
What begins with a resume of the sisters’ youth transforms into a psycho-thriller murder mystery with a charmingly unreliable narrator ... Wrought in unsentimental, candid prose, the depictions of their childhood showcase Bonner’s poetic sensibilities, as she displays powerful control over imagery, suspense, and irony ... Atlantis’ voice, rich with suffering and paranoia and tender with love and vulnerability, lives on through this dramatic memoir. The author clearly tried to strike a delicate balance between helping without derailing her own life, being supportive without enabling, and living fully without abandoning a needy loved one. The secrets of Atlantis’ life eventually became a chasm in which Bonner began to lose her stable sense of reality ... Carefully crafted, haunting, and absorbing, this thrilling memoir echoes in the head and heart long after the final page.