From former U.S Poet Laureate comes a memoir of a daughter reckoning with the brutal murder of her mother at the hands of her former stepfather, and the story of a poet coming into her own in the wake of unimaginable tragedy.
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.