As her aging mother plunges into ever-deeper realms of drug-fueled paranoia and mental illness, Adrian excavates memories of her troubled childhood by cataloguing memories, anecdotes, and bits of family lore in the form of a glossary.
Adrian's story is often horrifying. Both of her parents were violent; her mother's emotional and verbal abuse is ongoing and perhaps more shocking still. The older woman's circumstances, bouts of homelessness and hospitalization, and the younger woman's inability to extricate herself from the cycle of abuse, can be difficult to read ... The Twenty-Seventh Letter of the Alphabet is a feat on many levels. Adrian tells a harrowing story, surprisingly redeemed by her own sweet family, but in many ways also continuing. She gives it meaning without having answers to all the questions she still asks herself. Her work as glossator is astonishing and inventive. Her glossary is strangely gripping, with a momentum pulling the reader in and through. The result is whimsical, even darkly funny at times, brimming with compassion, terribly sad and deeply loving. Memoir readers should not miss this singular offering.
This ambitious memoir glints with poetry and wisdom...something aching, endless, unresolved, and extremely compelling ... The glossary is a clever choice of form. Like mental illness, a glossary impedes forward momentum (if one is compelled to flip forward and back), but it also provides a logic that real life doesn’t offer. As meaning accumulates, readers may become pleasantly ensnared in terminology ... The glossary can also become tedious, though, especially when the writer revisits similar moments from her past. She has smartly meshed a chronological narrative with the alphabetical sequencing, but that means the less plot-driven entries often seem superfluous. For instance, her frequent descriptions of old family negatives detailing facial expressions, clothing, houses, cars, et cetera, are not as compelling as the keenly observed scenes that make up the story’s arc. These more descriptive entries might convey some of the family’s emotional complexities, but Adrian’s novelistic attention to scene works even better. Either way, her prose is lyrical and funny, often in the same moment ... Readers may sometimes feel unnerved by the writer’s inability to maintain firm boundaries, as she variously serves as her mother’s analyst, defender, lawyer, social worker, innkeeper, companion, nurse, personal assistant, and chef ... For the reader, anyway, Adrian has accomplished her goal. Her glossary, in making a place for everything, has provided a way through this harrowing tale of the toll of generational trauma.
Despite the heartbreaking pain of the stories Adrian shares, she remains clear-eyed about what she remembers, providing minute details in ways that bring her scenes to life while also creating deep connections between the reader and her childhood self ... The glossary format doesn’t always work—sometimes the vignettes, which frequently jump around in time—can be a bit confusing as the reader attempts to understand which timeline they are in. Additionally, Adrian writes many vignettes describing family photos, and it would have been nice to actually see some of the photos included. However, the beauty of Adrian’s prose, and the courage she exhibits in telling her story, make it easy to overlook some of these flaws. Despite everything, Adrian still loves her parents. By sharing her conflicted feelings in such an intimate way, she helps the reader see not only that love, but its indelible impact on the identity of a woman still wrangling with how to define it.