Book Review

Unabrow: Misadventures of a Late Bloomer

Publisher: The Penguin Group 
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Pages: 249 
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Summary

What do aggressive facial hair, childbirth, an unhealthy obsession with the year 1993, and troll dolls have in common? Una Lamarche. Unabrow: Misadventures of a Late Bloomer is a hilarious collection of diary entries, observations, and convoluted graphics, some of which involve the correct way to use a public restroom.

Lamarche’s memoir tackles the most cringeworthy challenges of growing up female. Leapfrogging from one side splitting topic to another, and in no particular order, she takes the reader on a ride through the pitfalls of childhood, puberty, and even adulthood.

Lamarche recalls, with appalling and humorous clarity, her first-time experiences with drinking, sex, jobs-from-hell, and learning how to drive. As the book cover indicates this is “the book June Cleaver would have written if she had spent more time drinking and less time vacuuming.”

Thoughts

I am not sure which I did more of while reading Unabrow: laugh out loud or grimace. Anyone who has ever endured childhood, high school, or parenting will appreciate all the cringey and hilarious moments of this memoir. Lamarche is unapologetic, honest, and brash which makes for some entertaining stories.

Who wouldn’t identify with her obsession with the show Friends and the proclamation that she is the “Chandler” of her roommates? Or an apartment cleaning routine to the Led Zeppelin tune “Stairway to Heaven?” Then of course, there is the titular situation where Lamarche discusses her eyebrows, which, from birth, had joined to form a furry, face caterpillar. Her facial hair pact with her sister is one of those why-didn’t-I-think-of-that moments, and deserving of being the introduction to the book.

Despite my being slightly older than the millennial Lamarche, her stories are ones that any girl who’s ever memorized lyrics to an entire album, or has been dumped by their sixth grade friends can relate to. The random and chaotic format of the book just adds to its charm, and it was as if I was taking a peek inside Lamarche’s brain. As as a result there were some things, like the restroom graphics, that I can never unsee or forget!

Book Review

Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir by Jean Guerrero

Publisher: One World
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

Sometimes, the only way to find yourself is to go back to your roots. In Crux, Jean Guerrero travels back four generations to understand her father, Marco Antonio, who has been absent most of her adolescence. She starts with her mother, Jeannette, and paternal grandmother, Abuelita Carolina, and proceeds to climb further up the family tree.

Diagnosed with schizophrenia, Marco sees sinister shadows that pursue him around the world when he tries to escape them by leaving his family behind.

Jean is shaped both by her mother’s unwavering dependability and her father’s desertion. She searches for answers in Mexico, her father’s birthplace, a country that holds as much enigma for her as an adult as it terrified her as a child.

Through a series of life-changing experiences, she finds herself at the edge of an age-old chasm and preparing for the crossing: the crossing across country borders, the crossing into lunacy, the crossing between life and death—amalgamated into one flickering fence.

Thoughts

Stretching as far back as the Spanish invasion of Mexico, it is a memoir that reads like a novel owing to the poetic symmetry of the events and characters. Guerrero captures quite a few of her unique experiences in this book along with an element of mysticism—presented with a commendably unbiased view.

Crux is clearly a product of meticulous research and a highly perceptive mind. It uses interviews and historic documents among others as its sources. The compilation of these into a coherent narrative could not have been easy, as first-hand accounts of the family’s lives in or before the early twentieth century were hard to come by. It is a fascinating read and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in human psychology and/or ancient philosophy.


Thanks to Changing Hands Bookstore for providing an ARC
in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

Book Review

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

Publisher: Graywolf Press
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 264
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary:

What does domestic abuse look like? In what ways can domestic abuse be more than physical harm? What does domestic abuse look like between two women? What does domestic abuse look like when the perpetrator is smaller than the victim? These are some of the questions Carmen Maria Machado sets out to answer in her inventive new memoir In the Dream House.

In doing the research for this book, Machado sought out experiences that mirrored her own, but found the archive of literature and history to be lacking. This is her attempt at taking the first step in adding to that archive. She constructs her story through more than a hundred narrative tropes (i.e. stoner comedy, Chekov’s gun, man vs. self), resulting in an elaborately weaved and imaginatively told story that explores themes of abuse, queer relationship dynamics, queer world building, assessment of self-worth, and ultimately the emotional endurance that humans are capable of. 

Thoughts:

What I love most about this book, and there is a lot to love about it, is the way in which it pushes the boundary between nonfiction and fiction through the exploration of narrative tropes. While this memoir explores themes that are heavy and at times difficult to emotionally process, the reader is guided along by Machado’s incessant wit and playful prose; making this book fun to read despite the nature of its subject matter. Additionally, Machado annotates her experience with motifs from folk literature (i.e. taboos, ghost cries, girl mistakenly elopes with wrong lover) creating a dream within the tightly constructed world. 

Subsequently, this is a book that can easily be read over and over again and even seems to invite just that. There are whole worlds in this work that is part memoir, part literary criticism, part musing on pop-culture, and even part dissection of the music of Aimee Mann. I suspect that each time I reread this book, I will find something new to admire and obsess over. 

In the Dream House became instantly important to me not just because of the innovative way in which it is written, but because it seeks to put in place a framework for a more complete history that previously did not exist. As with her critically acclaimed short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, Machado has again brought attention to an aspect of modern queer life that was once invisible.  For this reason and many more, this book will enthrall its readers throughout its course until the wind carries the story away. 

Book Review

Relief by Execution by Gint Aras

Publisher: Little Bound Books, 8 October 2019
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 94
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary

Beginning with an illustration of the “deep connection to the dead” felt from the European cobblestone streets, Gint Aras begins his story when he is just about to visit the Concentration Camp Memorial nearest to his former Lithuanian home for the first time, announcing his intention to imagine himself not as a victim but as a perpetrator. Switching to past tense, Aras describes formative moments and impressions in his life, from a childhood in the violent West Chicago suburb Cicero in a physically abusive Lithuanian immigrant family to his time in Europe and then back in America.

Aras charts his progression from one who silently accepts and ignores abuse to one who identifies and confronts this behavior, whether it be the Lithuanian complicity in Nazi atrocities towards Jews during WWII to more broad racism, Anti-Semitism, and physical violence. He then ends the memoir back with his visit to Mauthausen in present tense recognizing a “relief by execution” for both prisoner and guard.

Thoughts

The tense and section changes in Aras’ work were somewhat disorienting for me personally, but his easy, conversational style immediately made me feel as involved in his realizations as he was. Though I have not suffered PTSD or uncovered a family and national history of abuse and atrocity, reading Relief by Execution allowed me to experience the emotions and sensations of these moments along with Aras.

In my admittedly brief experience, I too “sense a deep connection to the dead any time I stand on cobblestones in Europe” (1). Aras’ narrative provides a clear individual perspective on how the aftermath of WWII still affects thought patterns today, suggesting that we may not have left those atrocities as far in the past as we may wish to believe.

Since Aras provides such a personal and approachable take on the complicated conceptions of ethnic identity, race, nationality, and abuse, I would recommend Relief by Execution to anyone (high school age or older) who seeks to understand how our individual identities are affected by our cultural and familial baggage.


Thanks to the publicist at The Next Best Book Blog for providing an ARC in
exchange for this honest and unbiased review.

ASU Book Group

Join fellow ASU students and faculty for a book discussion at the Piper Writers House. This month, the ASU Book Group will be reading and discussing By the Forces of Gravity: A Memoir by Rebecca Fish Ewan.

This illustrated coming-of-age book shares Ewan’s childhood friendship that was cut short by tragedy as well as her adventures searching for love, acceptance, and truth alongside her cohorts.

Professor Ewan teaches landscape architecture in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at ASU.

Be sure to pick up the book and bring a friend for this book discussion! A no-host luncheon will follow the meeting in the University Club next-door.


Location: Piper Writers House, 450 E. Tyler Mall, Tempe

Date: Wednesday, September 18

Time: Noon to 1 p.m.

For more information, click here.