Short, stirring, and soul-shattering, Natasha Trethewey’s memoir recounts the unbearable tragedy of domestic violence. Growing up as a biracial child, Tretheway bonded with her black mother despite her parents’ divorce. Their mother-daughter relationship was great until her mother remarried to an abusive, possessive man.
Poetic, poignant, and piercing, Trethewey’s storytelling has multiple layers. She changed from first-person to second-person narrative. She included her mother’s own writing. She also transcribed the chilling phone conversation between her mother and her stepfather. Their exchange gives us a sense of how it was impossible for a woman to leave her abusive husband.
It’s a powerful book that can be read in one gulp, but the story will stay with you for a long time.
When Trethewey discovered that her stepfather had read her diary, she writes (p.108):
No longer was I content to describe my days, to begin my entries “Dear Diary,” to write as if to an intimate friend, a second self. Instead, I turned the page on any notion of privacy, certain that he would read whatever I wrote, and began again.
“You stupid motherfucker!” I wrote. “Do you think I don’t know what you’re doing? You wouldn’t know I thought of you like this if you weren’t reading my diary.” Each entry thereafter was a litany of indictments, my accounting of all the things he had done. Not only had I stopped expecting that my words could be private, but also I had begun to think of them as a near-public act of communication, with a particular goal, and that there could be power in articulating what I needed to say. Even more, there was something powerful in writing it. In my first act of resistance, I had inadvertently made him my first audience. Everything I’d needed to articulate came out in those pages, raw and unfiltered, and I felt for the first time in this new voice I inhabited a profound sense of selfhood. I could push back by not holding inside what might otherwise have continued to divide and erode me.