Monday, June 29, 2009

Recommended Reading: Swallow the Ocean by Laura Flynn

Very early this morning, somewhere around 1:30 a.m., I turned off my light. I had just finished reading Swallow the Ocean by Laura Flynn. I read it over a period of four days. And, I felt like a child again in that moment that I laid the book on my bedside table and curled onto my side into a fetal position with my hands under my head. I knew I needed to sleep; I had an early enough morning. But, I couldn't sleep immediately without prayers, which I don't do much anymore - once in awhile, maybe, when I need to get a few things off my mind. Last night, I needed to thank the powers that be for the people in my life. For my children, my husband, my healthy aging parents, my sister. I needed to ask for forgiveness for those quiet unknown hurts I have caused. This book touched me. It left me a little raw and open and exposed. And, in that dark hour of the night, I realized it has been awhile since I have even been in touch with that kind of emotional vulnerability. I spend my days in the material world, with funiture, paint chips and tile samples. I make people happy in that world. I have a good marriage (but this made me realize how much even more I need to appreciate it!), happy, healthy children and thriving parents who, at 80, are still married and cook three meals a day. I don't have much angst.

Laura Flynn has been living in Minneapolis - she attended the University of Minnesota MFA Writing Program, which, I know from limited experience seems quite good. I saw her at a local discusson on memoir writing, which is how I came to buy the book. (You have to buy those books if you go to these events! I had no idea if I would like the book.)

Laura grew up with an untreated schizophrenic mother in San Francisco in the late 1960's and 1970's and the book is a memoir which she pieced together from memory and from fact-checking with her father and two sisters. (She is certain her mother used to wrap herself in tin foil, then blankets and lie on the living room floor, but her older sister has no such memory of that.) From what I know about SF at that time, you might have thought her mother, Sally, would have disappeared in the throngs of alternative types, but for Laura, the disease was not only real - it implicated itself into every aspect of her life - from the kinds of clothing she could wear to foraging for their own meals while their mother locked herself in the bedroom for hours on end to the overwhelming sense that she needed to protect her mother and herself from the world.

It is a painful story, yet Laura manages to tell it with the innocence of the child. Alienation and bitterness are only occasional components in this tale - and compelling when the appear. Her detailed memories of doll games with her sisters and the handmade clothing that she was forced to wear bring the period to life and her way with the facts of the matter are disarming.

I finished the book feeling torn open emotionally - like I have no story so revealing, no story that strips me naked like this does. And, of course, I was grateful for that - and that is the point of the spontaneous prayer. But, I was reminded that it is useful to go to these places once in awhile, to leave the material world and dwell deeply in the emotional one, to remember that what we have today may be gone tomorrow.

Read it - and weep.

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