Thursday, September 25, 2008

Of the past and the ghosts it leaves in us

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, essays, memoirs

The ad for Sightline Books in an endpaper calls the genre "Literary Nonfiction". Family Bible by Melissa Delbridge is a book of essays, each a mini-memoir, a handful of stories of various periods of her life in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Her opening lines made me wonder what I was getting myself in for: "My relatives don't take travel lightly. Hell, a few of them pray before making a long-distance phone call." And a little further along I began to get apprehensive: "Swimming and sex seemed a lot alike to me when I was growing up...", where she explains the similarities, the doffing of clothing, the liquids and unguents involved. Well! Fortunately she confined a deeper examination of the subject to one of the essays, and pretty much skated over the details even then. Her interest is clearly people's attitudes more than their actions.

There's plenty of action, however...this is how attitudes become known. Her father's wild ways and ultra-charming way of mollifying her mother; her mother, finally unmollified, taking the kids to the other end of town (For a family that didn't travel, that was far enough). Her classmates, some well-behaved, most not; the mental patients she cared for at two hospitals; the 'broken ones' and 'turned-in girls' she knew, whether incarcerated or not. All in all, she finds that most folks end up broken in some way or another. We all struggle to survive with whatever we've got.

For these are stories of survival. Most of the ghosts in her memory survived, though a few didn't. The deep South has a reputation for more violence, incest, and general Hell-raising than the supposedly more genteel North. In my estimation, the sins are as numerous and as deep in both places, just expressed in different ways. But she has a point, that a couple of her cousins can chill you to the bone just by shaking your hand, or with the look you get when they say, "Hello." That anything taken to excess creates evil, whether alcohol or religion, and that everyone has an excess of their own. Everyone.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for reading my book and for your thoughtful comments!

Melissa Delbridge