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.
We left for the airport before dawn. Dave was driving. His sons,
David Junior and Jacob, were in the backseat. I was thirty-eight
years old. The landscape we were leaving was like the landscape
in a children's book. Shiny new cars beetled to office
buildings. Below, the Grand River curved like cursive drawn
with a thick silver pen across our part of Michigan. We zipped
past bare sun-warm fields on the outskirts of Grand Rapids,
down the new highway to the airport, and I snuggled into
Dave. I had a strong family feeling. I was eager for him to meet
my wild daddy, my dear peculiar mom. Dave was willing, the
boys were excited. None of us were awake yet.
Earlier that week, I'd come back to Michigan from upstate New York, where I was working as a visiting writer during my sabbatical year, so we could all go to Florida together. Dave had picked me up at the airport. I saw him before he saw me, walking down the corridor, past the narrow sports bar. Dave always wore ...
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).
Full Review (1391 words).
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): ...
If you liked You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know, try these:
'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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