Review | Tuesday 28 February 2012
Claire Bidwell Smith is 14 when her mother is diagnosed with cancer; by the time she is 25 she will have lost both her parents to the disease. The intervening years, and those that follow, see her so plagued with grief that the faultlines in her psyche crack, and as she falls into addiction and bad relationships the reader can’t help but fall alongside her.
There is no doubt about the love she and her parents feel for each other, and when they are gone, she is no longer anyone’s most important person. Her journey to where she feels able to move past the suffering and towards a future of hope is one of the most honest and wrenching memoirs I have read.
Not only did she make me cry – repeatedly – but her writing style, engaging and immediate, flows seamlessly from emotionally raw to the warmth of literary hot milk. Chapters roam back and forth in time and we sit on the floor of her room watching her teenage years: shoplifting, the discovery of boys, abandoning friends for those who appear more damaged. We are in the car next to her during her time at college: independence, poetry, and most final, the death of her mother.
Then there are the years beyond, and we watch with our fingers covering our eyes as she moves to New York and meets the abrasive and dominant Colin, reeling from his own loss; as alcohol takes over; as she moves to LA and briefly finds herself in the middle of something like a The Devil Wears Prada’s twisted magazine-assistant lifestyle; as her beloved father slips away while she holds his hand. Then, finally, we smile (and maybe weep a little more, if you’re sappy like me) as she tackles her grief head on, and with effort and grace, reaches the other side.
Fiona Hardy sells books and talks too much to customers at Readings Carlton, and puts together Dead Write for the Readings Monthly. She blogs haphazardly about movies and books (and sometimes music) and you can follow her on twitter - @readwatchtweet.