Memoir Short Takes: Stories from Paris, Iowa, El Paso, and Tehran

by Julie Kane

I had another one of those months filled with great reads; I’m sorry to disappoint anyone looking for a scathing indictment of horrific writing. There are some amazing finds here: Joe Blair and Doron Weber absolutely blew me out of the water. Weber did some real damage, and Blair’s clear, deliberate tone makes me anxious to see more from him soon.

  Blair, Joe. By the Iowa Sea: A Memoir of Disaster and Love. Scribner. Mar. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9781451636055. $24.00. MEMOIR
cover Memoir Short Takes: Stories from Paris, Iowa, El Paso, and TehranBlair is a husband, a father of four, a heating and air conditioning repairman, and a homeowner. His oldest son is on the fairly serious end of the autism spectrum. His marriage bears no resemblance to the relationship it once was. Faltering in all aspects of his life, he stumbles as he looks to his past and evaluates what looks like the closing door of his future. The grimness of the day-to-day drudgery threatens to overwhelm him and take down the entire family when a natural disaster wipes out their world. VERDICT Startlingly bleak and eloquent in its desperation, Blair’s memoir is nothing short of compelling. He has a remarkably resonant voice; I’ll be keeping a sharp eye out for more.

Comar, Scott. Border Junkies: Addiction and Survival on the Streets of Juárez and El Paso. Univ. of Texas. 2011. 246p. ISBN 9780292726833. $24.95 MEMOIR
The title spells it out: this is a tale of heroin addiction in two border cities. Simply told, Comar’s story reels from near-death experiences, to his scrambles for loose change while planning the next fix, to his short stays in recovery (sometimes post-overdose). In the landscape of the borderlands, Comar finds the lure of addiction too overpowering to continue the progress he makes in various short-term rehab facilities. A look at active addiction in one of the most dangerous regions of the drug war, Comar’s account illustrates a life from the inside of a downward spiral. VERDICT Not a fun read, by any stretch. The cycle of addiction is grim, and keeping up with its repetition can be frustrating and grating. Staying with this book is worthwhile as readers get a sense of what must be endured in recovery. An excellent resource for anyone studying the sociological implications of the drug war along the Mexico-U.S. border.

Large, Storm. Crazy Enough: A Memoir. Free Pr: S. & S. Jan. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9781439192405. $25.00 MEMOIR
Blisteringly honest, Large (former contestant, CBS’s 2006 TV show Rock Star: Supernova) writes of her mother’s lifelong mental illness. As a child the author spent her time either visiting her mother in mental hospitals, blaming herself for her mother’s inability to remain stable, or fighting against predictions of inherited mental illness. Struggling with her love for her mother as well as the woman’s wildly manipulative breakdowns and tenuous recoveries, Large discovers her burgeoning artistic talent and refuses to compromise it or censor her passion. After fumbling through a self-destructive youth then building a stable life she can take ownership of, Large shares a sense of self with her audience that is brazen and vulnerable, strident and questioning. VERDICT Rough and uproarious, Large’s story is a great read. Readers don’t need to be familiar with Rock Star: Supernova; her celebrity doesn’t matter in the telling. That is what makes this a good book (in my book).

Tajadod, Nahal. Tehran, Lipstick and Loopholes. Virago, dist. by Trafalgar Square. Jan. 2012. 247p. ISBN 9781844085149. pap. $13.95 MEMOIR
On a mission to get her Iranian passport renewed and return home to France in time to attend the Cannes film festival with her husband, novelist Tajadod (Rumi: The Fire of Love) encounters endless roadblocks: all quirky, alarming, and indicative of the current state of Iran. From the moment she begins her quest, she illuminates the duality of modern Iran. Relying on bizarre favors and tenuous relationships, she navigates treacherous political and cultural waters, enlisting the help of a forensic surgeon, professional photographers who stage Islamic-style portraits (no makeup, headscarf with no visible hair showing, no smile) often necessary for official documents, a colonel, and an official from the Department of Culture, as she jumps through the bureaucratic hoops necessary to leave the country of her birth. VERDICT A book that strives to be as light-hearted as possible while delving into the idiosyncrasies of a country in the throes of an identity crisis.

Thomas, Naturi. How To Die In Paris: A Memoir. Seal. 2011. 256p. ISBN 9781580053648. $17.00 MEMOIR
Following a tumultuous childhood with a horrific mother, actress and children’s book author Thomas (Uh-Oh! It’s Mama’s Birthday!) cut off communication with her parents when she moved to Europe, hoping for escape and change. A sour end to a stint as a live-in tutor/nanny in Italy leaves her nearly bankrupt, and she concludes that there’s nothing left to do but die‚ with one exception: she must see Paris first. What follows is a story of poverty and desperation on the streets of a city of beauty and tragedy. Thomas chooses daily whether to attempt to die or how to fight to live on her own terms. VERDICT Not many people can pull off a good‚ much less extended‚ joke about attempting suicide. This book is at once wry, touching, affronting, and funny. No spoilers here: it helps to read this knowing, logically, that she can’t have succeeded at the suicide. While there’s still an air of suspense, readers can enjoy this book with comfortable psychological safety net.

 Weber, Doron. Immortal Bird: A Family Memoir. S. & S. Feb. 2012. 368p. ISBN 9781451618068. $25.00. MEMOIR
11390633 Memoir Short Takes: Stories from Paris, Iowa, El Paso, and TehranThrough this memoir, Weber introduces us to his incredibly dynamic son, Damon, and the intricacies of his medical issues. Damon, born without a second ventricle in his heart, underwent two open-heart surgeries before age four. A setback initially diagnosed as protein-losing enteropathy sets off a medical spiral. Weber’s dedication to his son, his dogged devotion to medical research and responsibility, and Damon’s experience of a life lived in the hands of both his doctors and parents‚ all are laid out with utmost care. Weber’s description of the medical world is unsettling, to say the least; the story of Damon and Weber’s journey is shattering. VERDICT I sobbed. No leaky tears or sniffles for this: wracking, ab-chiseling sobs. You will need to read or watch something brainlessly fluffy after, preferably with a glass of wine to drink and a few kittens to snuggle. Highly recommended.

 

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