Helen Fremont's bestselling memoir, After Long Silence, published in 1991 recounts her discovery in adulthood that her parents were not Catholics, as she thought, but Jewish Holocaust survivors living invented lives. In her new memoir, Fremont delves even deeper into the family dynamic that produced such a startling devotion to secret-keeping.
Helen Fremont wrote a memoir and her family metaphorically killed her for it. What’s a writer to do, then, but write another memoir that attempts to understand why? ... [a] crackling second book ... The Escape Artist is a stand-alone work. Graceful, gracious and, with the exception of a few vamping detours, an engrossing tour through a dense, if troubling, landscape. Still, the portrait accrues meaning when viewed as a palimpsest. There are fresh revelations in the second book that illuminate events in the first. They make sense of some of the madness, and deepen the reader’s compassion for an already compassion-worthy clan. It feels worth noting that, in After Long Silence, Fremont elided many facts. She did so at the behest of a family by which she still hoped to be embraced. The Escape Artist, then, as the title suggests, is Fremont unbound. And yet the book’s very existence confirms a stubborn, and more global, truth: When it comes to family, you’re never truly free.
This tragic and unsettling (but also humorous and wry) memoir opens with an event that becomes the impetus of Fremont’s attempt to make sense of it all. Weeks after attending her father’s funeral, she receives a letter informing her of her own disinheritance ... No one could accuse the family in The Escape Artist of keeping only small secrets, but in its truth-telling, it serves as a catharsis for anyone who has ever spent time hiding the skeletons of others.
In openly confronting the consequences of telling family stories — twice, after bad results the first time! — Fremont takes the reader along with her on the risky moon shot that is family memoir. With this eloquent guide, it is a difficult tour worth taking.