Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Escape Artist by Helen Fremont

This is easily one of the best memoirs I've read in a while. Books like these are part of the reason I don't five-star everything left and right. In my quest to separate the wheat from the chaff, I look for quality books that not only stand out from the rest but do so with eloquence and pizazz. THE ESCAPE ARTIST is a truly haunting memoir written by a woman whose parents were holocaust survivors. She writes about the strain of growing up with parents who truly went through hell, and how it felt with all of her own problems paling in comparison, and how guilty that made her feel. As if that weren't bad enough, her sister was mentally ill, and violently abusive, and the author had her own problems with suicide and depression.

It sounds devastating, and maybe it would have been if the author had languished on it, but she seems to have been able to distance herself from her childhood to the point where she can write about these terrible things as matter-of-factly as possible, while also acknowledging the faultiness of memory and that how her parents and her sister might remember the situation could differ from her own recollections. This made what could have been a very difficult book for me much easier to read, even though it was still a very emotional experience.

I loved how the author wrote about growing up in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. She worked on a New England farm, went to Wellesley, hiked mountains, and did all this other stuff, while also struggling with her sexuality (she later came out as a lesbian) and her depression. Even when she became an adult, her sister loomed like a phantom over her life, and she could feel the burdensome guilt her parents placed on her. The dissociation in this family was so strong and I found it so upsetting how everything was brushed under the carpet to maintain "appearances" (her father footed the hospital bill for her sister's confinement so it wouldn't appear on her record from the insurance claim).

If you are interested in psychology, memoirs, books about holocaust survivors, or just books about very toxic family dynamics, I think you will enjoy this book. It's so well-written and emotional and detailed and it packs a wicked punch. Even though it's hard to read, I don't regret it for a single moment, and there's so many things I want to talk about in this book, but part of what makes this book so compelling is how the author gradually reveals elements from her life, piece by piece, so quite honestly, the less you know going in, the better. Just read it. Trust me.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!   

4.5 to 5 out of 5 stars

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