Whenever I’m feeling slightly stressed or anxiety-prone, I stop by a Goodwill for a quick hit of book buying. At Goodwill, there will be a two copies of New Moon, some Grisham book, and if you’re lucky a slightly torn up hard cover Harry Potter. Once in awhile, if I am careful and read through each title and paragraph description, I’ll find something I never knew existed.
House Rules by Rachel Sontag interested me immediately as a memoir on the premise of emotional abuse from her parents rather than the more radical, probable, and comprehensible physical abuse. Not only that, but the author’s description toted an MFA from the New School. I was in the process for applying to grad schools (not on the east coast, really, but in the general sense) and thought it was worth looking into how her background influenced her writing.
In One Sentence: A girl growing up is chastised for growing up.
Favorite Line: “It came out almost shyly. And I thought he’d come to a stop, realizing he was killing a certain part of me, and I thought that Mom was going to blow the whistle, declare that we’d gone too far. But Dad looked up from the carpet, into my eyes, and said, ‘I mean that, Rachel. I really do. I wish you were never born. I really, really do.'” – p. 158
Review: This is essentially a coming of age story. This story works wonderfully on the level of laying out the context and instances of emotional abuse through clear, matter-of-fact style. The greatest moments of any memoir is when the author takes time to reflect on their own involvement and growth in the piece, and Sontag succeeds in keeping those moments genuine and well-placed. While her father comes across as controlling (a patriarch on a power trip), the betrayal she feels from her mother, her family, her friends is more heartbreaking. This book brings up a great question about writing non-fiction: how do you write your story without hurting the people you love? Someone once told me in a workshop something they had heard from someone else, and has likely travelled from writer to writer since. You are allowed to write your story, because it’s yours. If people get upset, they can write their version, but don’t let it stop you. This book is a must-read, unless you’ve had more serious life problems where this might come off as first world problems (see: Anne Frank).
The Book Would Have Ended A Lot Sooner If: Adults did not act so openly like children.
In Other News: In a strange turn of events, after the book was published the parents decided to “set things right” and created a website posting their story along with an abundance of notes, recordings, and odd poetry. In another example of I-think-you-just-proved-my-point, enjoy: