In this award-winning memoir, two sisters return home to reckon with the decline of their outlandishly tyrannical mother and care for their psychologically terrorized father. Winner of the 2019 Stella Prize.
As sinister as this sounds, Laveau-Harvie tells the story with laugh-out-loud humor, and tremendous heart and insight. She has a poet’s gift for language, a playwright’s sense of drama and a stand-up comic’s talent for timing. But perhaps most remarkable is the generosity of spirit with which she writes about family trauma ... despite everything, Laveau-Harvie does not take herself too seriously, and by holding the reins of her story lightly, she gives us the ride of our lives. The book flows with kinetic energy, wit and wisdom. Upon reaching the last page, I found myself turning to the beginning and starting again, not wanting it to end.
...a beautifully crafted, unblinkingly honest, often darkly funny lament for a loving family that never was. The author’s mother was a cruel and abusive narcissist, her father an enabler and Laveau-Harvie and her younger sister the casualties of their parents’ twisted way of inhabiting the world. ... Their six-year journey of navigating endless health care bureaucracy while revisiting familial pain makes for an engrossing and fascinating read, one that moves with the ebbs and flows of Laveau-Harvie’s supressed, impressionistic memories ... Through this protective gauzy 'fog' beams the author’s light: an unflinching and empathetic memoir of the collision between past trauma and new outrage, dotted with precious moments of rueful levity and fleeting beauty.
...[a] desolate story of dysfunction ... For such a force of menace, Laveau-Harvie’s mother is a strangely silent antagonist. Once placed in care, she vanishes from the story; the focus shifts to the father — depicted as a helpless, blameless lamb — and the vulnerabilities of old age. The mother is so absent, I began to wonder if Laveau-Harvie still fears her contaminating charm, her ability to distort reality ... She dips into the past to present a few examples of bizarre behavior — how her mother once crept up behind her and snipped off her ponytail with a pair of scissors — but there is no full accounting of what it was like to grow up with such a woman, no interest in exploring the sources of her cruelty. As a choice it is unsatisfying, but also curiously mesmerizing: the mother as the glacier, the great governing force in their family life, and still too dominant, too vast to be seen whole ... In its compression and odd omissions, its reluctance to diagnose, this memoir is itself an erratic — an outlier in its genre ... Laveau-Harvie depicts her mother neither as a riddle to be solved nor as a woman to be understood, but as an implacable act of nature, who must only be survived. If she remains a hazy character in the book, she inflects its every sentence, its structure, its aversions. She was a mother with a monstrous talent for twisting reality. In her memoir of the aftermath, her daughter tethers her story to the very ground beneath her. She speaks only of what she can confirm; she moves carefully, finding her footing.