Having grown up with an eccentric mother, Leve seeks to understand the effects of chronic psychological maltreatment on a child’s developing brain, and to discover how to build a life for herself that she never dreamed possible: An unabbreviated life.
An Abbreviated Life is a powerful and frequently devastating account of a childhood without boundaries and dominated by loneliness, chaos and fear ... Leve is a journalist and she brings a reporter’s curiosity and diligence to her subject. Not always trusting her own version of events, she seeks the testimony of others ... Leve’s recollections can be brutal but are made digestible by the elegant sparseness of her prose. There are times, however, when the injustice of it all overwhelms her and her sentences begin to bubble and spit. You get a sense of a writer forever trying keep a lid on her fury.
[A] painful, strangely mesmerizing memoir ... You could therefore view An Abbreviated Life as an act of supreme vengeance. But I have a different theory: After living through so many years of uncontrolled hysteria and histrionics, Ms. Leve badly pines for witnesses ... The book is a portrait of something familiar gone wildly, tragically awry ... At times Ms. Leve goes overboard when she gets into the clinical aspects of what she suffered.
I hope every word of Leve’s recovery story is factual, but some of it, as well as her presentation of her father, can seem too good to be true ... he book also may leave others wondering what Ariel was like as a teenager and why she has been unable to write the liberating letter to her mother until she is forty-six ... If An Abbreviated Life were a novel, I’d call its narrative underdeveloped, overdetermined, and mistitled ... I want to believe that An Abbreviated Life has a parodic and deconstructive intent, using readers’ conventional expectations and stock responses against them.