Heather Sellers is face-blind - that is, she has prosopagnosia, a rare neurological condition that prevents her from reliably recognizing people's faces. Growing up, unaware of the reason for her perpetual confusion and anxiety, she took what cues she could from speech, hairstyle, and gait. But she sometimes kissed a stranger, thinking he was her boyfriend, or failed to recognize even her own father and mother. She feared she must be crazy.
Yet it was her mother who nailed windows shut and covered them with blankets, made her daughter walk on her knees to spare the carpeting, had her practice secret words to use in the likely event of abduction. Her father went on weeklong "fishing trips" (aka benders), took in drifters, wore panty hose and bras under his regular clothes. Heather clung to a barely coherent story of a "normal" childhood in order to survive the one she had.
That fairy tale unraveled two decades later when Heather took the man she would marry home to meet her parents and began to discover the truth about her family and about herself. As she came at last to trust her own perceptions, she learned the gift of perspective: that embracing the past as it is allows us to let it go. And she illuminated a deeper truth-that even in the most flawed circumstances, love may be seen and felt.
While the latter half of the book occasionally wobbles in its attempt to address both narrative strands, the approach works well overall, unifying what could have been two distinct memoirs into a generally satisfying whole... In the midst of painful circumstances that would have broken some people, the author displays a grace and wisdom that allows her to navigate the world with a renewed sense of vision. (Reviewed by Marnie Colton).
Although [Sellers] can't recognize others, in this book she has managed to find herself.
Never forget a face? What if you couldn't remember any? Sellers... learns to appreciate the upside: Being blind to faces makes it easier to see herself and those she loves as they really are.
The New York Times Book Review You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know does not read like any memoir you know... Unless I've got prose blindness, Sellers is an ace... Her calm, glass-half-full-to-overflowing worldview could, in another writer's hands, veer towards treacle, but she pulls it off beautifully. I predict exciting things for her: critical acclaim, hearty sales, and, perhaps best of all, long lines of strangers at every reading.
Stunning... This is a memoir to be devoured in great chunks. The pleasure of reading it derives both from its graceful style and from its ultimate lesson: that seeing our past for what it really was, and forgiving those involved, frees us up to love them all the more, despite their (and our) limitations.
Sure to appeal to fans of The Glass Castle, Sellers limns an acutely perceptive tale of triumph over parental and physical shackles.
Sellers handles the jagged transitions between past and present deftly, explaining her life as a story of "how we love each other in spite of immense limitations."
We live in a memoir-saturated era in which it often seems that nearly everyone has written a story about their experiences with substance abuse, parental neglect, the ravages of fame, and trips to the psychiatric ward. This glut makes it easy to dismiss memoirs as the overheated fabrications of narcissistic attention-seekers, and although many memoirs do unfortunately fall into that category, the best ones transcend their subject matter to show us how people live, love, fail, and triumph, often despite (or because of) various mental and neurological disorders. Here is a list of some memoirs focusing on mental health that I have found to be particularly engaging, honest, and unsentimental:
Rat Girl by Kristin Hersh (2010):
In the same shimmering, incisive language that defines her songwriting, singer and guitarist Hersh recounts the alternately magical and terrifying year that her band, Throwing...
'Despite its unblinking stare at an excruciatingly painful subject, this is not a dour book. Autobiography of a Face is a book about image, about the tyranny of the image of a beautiful - or even pleasingly average - face. In the end, this tyranny is not so much overthrown as shrugged off.'
Far from the Tree is a masterpiece that will rattle our prejudices, question our policies, and inspire our understanding of the relationship between illness and identity. Above all, it will renew and deepen our gratitude for the herculean reach of parental love.
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