* I received a copy of this book in return for a fair review.
A woman’s story of her southern girlhood and the long, hard road to finding her own voice after decades of abuse and neglect.
Even under the care of the most loving parents, few of us make it to adulthood without figuring out that life can be harsh and unfair and we usually have a varied collection of emotional bruises to prove it. Now imagine you didn’t enter this world into the warm embrace of an attentive, affectionate nuclear family, and that the very culture surrounding you seemed to exist for the sole purpose of smothering you with the reality of your own insignificance. Stands to reason that by the time you reached adulthood, if you reached adulthood, there might not be an inch of you, inside or out, left unmarked.
Toni K. Pacini’s memoir of growing up in a tiny Alabama mill town is gritty and ugly and sad. So many times I wanted to throw the book across the room and say NO MORE. But I couldn’t stop reading. Because when a voice that’s been stifled and stomped on finally claims itself and demands you listen–you listen.
Pacini’s tale is more than just another “I had a lousy childhood” whine-fest. It’s a case study in how to create a family tradition of broken spirits and ruined futures. The author shapes her demonstration in exquisite detail. Generation by generation. Children undervalued, forgotten, or thrown away grow up to undervalue, forget, throw away their own children. She shows through her own experiences how unprotected children never learn how to protect themselves. How this leaves them at the mercy of those who wish them harm and at the mercy of their own desperate attempts to scratch out some sort of existence.
What I admire is how in a literary format that often leaves itself open to the excesses of subjectivity–what is the truth, really?–Pacini goes out of her way to balance experience with understanding. She lets us know from the beginning that her mother and father started out damaged, and that many of the choices they made, especially as regards their children, weren’t really choices at all. They were the natural outcome of a completely unnatural cultural phenomenon specific to a particular time and place. Basically, the working poor in the deep south during the middle of the 20th Century.
Pacini also puts her own behavior under the microscope and points out tragic decision by tragic decision how she hurt her own chances of escape again and again. How, running from one coast to another coast and back again, she could not break free of what that small mill town taught her to expect from life and from herself. Less than nothing.
Would it ruin things for you if I tell you there’s a happy ending? It takes a while to get there. And the detours are numerous and scary. But, I promise, it’s well worth the trip.