Monday, September 14, 2009

Not an easy story to tell

Writing honestly and unflinchingly about your own experiences is never easy.

There’s always the temptation to make yourself just a little bit wittier - after all, you’ve had time to think of that clever comeback. There’s the temptation to make yourself a little bit smarter, to take the knowledge you gained from the whole experience and give it to the self that’s just starting out. There’s the temptation to paint yourself in the best possible light.

But when authors refrain from giving in to temptation, the result is oh-so provocative.

Julie Myerson does just that in “The Lost Child: A Mother’s Story” (ISBN 9781596917002).

This London-based author weaves her personal struggles with a teenage son’s drug addiction with her professional fascination with a woman who died centuries earlier.
And it works.

This is Myerson’s story. Her son, his father, their other children are mentioned, but only as such. She’s not kidding when she says this is a mother’s story.

And perhaps that’s why I felt a connection.

When we first meet Myerson, it’s been a few weeks since she and her husband asked their oldest son to leave their home. She felt there was no other choice. His drug addiction was tearing the family apart. It’s clearly a decision she’s still struggling with.

“And then one day we can’t do it any longer. We can’t be without him. So we do exactly what we said we wouldn’t do, what the experts categorically say you should not do. We take him back without negotiation, without having secured any promises about behavior. We take him back unconditionally. We tell him we love him. We just take him back.”

Things don’t get much better. Myerson finds some measure of solace in immersing herself into finding out all she can about Mary Yelloly, a 21-year-old who died in the early 19th century.

Myerson flips back and forth in time skillfully. But for me the quest for Mary Yelloly was never as fascinating as Myerson’s worsening conflicts with her son.

“When I tell people – not many people but just a close one or two – that our son hit me, they always say the same thing: Oh, but I bet he felt so terrible afterwards?
And that’s where the story gets harder to tell. Because if he did feel terrible – Oh, they say, but he must have! Come on, there’s no way any boy could do that and not feel the most extraordinary remorse? – if he did feel terrible, then he did not show it. Even now. He has not showed it.”

Myerson gives us no easy answers - no answers at all, really – but despite how hard to tell the story becomes, she goes on. And we are taken along with her.

- Tricia Ambrose

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