Who doesn't like to complain about their lives? Everyone does, of
course. And we do complain --- about hangnails, about missed buses
and cold coffee and important documents we can no longer find in
the clutter of our lives. After September 11th, the call went out
--- people will no longer be interested in the singular problems of
one person, which would mean that memoirists would have little to
no audience left. Who needs to listen to your tale of woe when we
watched thousands perish in real time on TV and the world we live
in is inhabited by National Guardsmen on bridges and U. S. Marshals
on airplanes? Well, one memoir that will put this limited
perspective to the test is Jennifer Lauck's wonderfully moving and
spirited tale of her sad and despairing childhood, STILL WATERS.
Like its predecessor BLACKBIRD, STILL WATERS manages to find the
humor and light in the darkest of all possible clouds --- parental
abandonment, sexual molestation, a sibling's death.
Lauck hasn't just overcome her problems --- she has grown from
them. A lot of memoirists maintain the stance that they have truly
gotten over their situations, that they have learned to forgive if
not also to forget those who have oppressed them in their lives.
But Jennifer Lauck doesn't use the Fitzgeraldian metaphors of
celebrities writing with ghost writers' thesauruses --- she brings
the pain and occasional yet still painful joy of her life to us
with the sparest of self-deprecation and self-immolation. She
adapts a tone that reminded me of the clear and concise voice of
Scout in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD --- the young girl who is on the
brink of adulthood, able to see the world for all its dirty little
secrets but still manage a rose-colored how-do-you-do when it makes
sense. Lauck is no sissy --- she takes her lumps and turns sour
life into literary lemonade.
Her relationship with her foster sister Kimmy, and its aftermath,
is perhaps one of the few times where she allows what bitterness
lies deep within her to surface, when years later she is confronted
with the family for whom she did so much and from whom she gets no
"thank you," while her spoiled sibling attends private school while
getting lousy grades and cruising in her own new car. But Lauck has
no mere pretensions about the heartless consumerist life she sees
all around her --- having been left without love, she understands
that it is all we have to live for.
Jennifer Lauck is a novelist but uses her own life as the story.
She is a storyteller, born not bred, a strange inspiration, one of
those people who really seems to know what life is all about. From
the comfort of a family of her own, she has managed to wrest from
her troubled heart the important visage of a life that should have
ended in disaster (as many of those around her did) but which
instead managed to raise the living of life to an art form. May
Lauck find more and more to write about as she grows older --- it
is one of those literary thankyous we can all throw out around the
turkey this year.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on January 23, 2011