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Sunday, October 16, 2011


Life as fiction.” I heard that phrase on NPR today and if I'm not mistaken that is what Tilly does with this book. According to the forward, in 1990 Meg Tilly's repressed memories began to surface. She fictionalized the characters and her life but even so this book is essentially a collection of memoirs from her troubled childhood. My friend Dawn loaned it to me. Her copy is a 2006 printing of a 1994 copyright with a new forward by the author. I picked it up yesterday and was instantly both horrified and transfixed. We went to a concert last evening so I had to put it down for a few hours, but then I took it to bed and read into the wee hours of the night. Finished it just before going to church this morning.

Now I am drained. Such a scary ride through a traumatic childhood this was! I have not read a book full of so much abuse and neglect in a long time. If you don't have a strong stomach this isn't for you. However, if you can take it you will get perhaps a clearer look into the psyche of a child living in a dysfunctional family. Tilly has written these stories as if they are right out of the heart and mind of the child she was. The impressions and thought patterns are those of the child not those of an adult looking back which you often find in a memoir. While unsettling, having the stories presented in that manner makes you feel the fear and uncertainty for the child she was more clearly.

The construction of the novel is unusual. The chapters are in chronological order but the gaps between them appear to be sometimes days, weeks, or even perhaps years. Tilly had talked about the stories which became the chapters in the forward so I went to reread it and was reminded that “Doghouse” and “Buckerfield's” had been the first stories she had written. Once placed in order though those chapters came much later. The book has no table of contents so it was annoying to find those chapters for reexamination. The mother of this fictional Anna in Singing Songs was smart and well educated. She did appear to love her children and her step children. However, she was not capable of being a good or even adequate nurturer. It's hard to say why a person, who has to be aware that their parenting skills are wanting, continues to procreate but they often do, as she also did.

This mother was not only neglectful but often an accomplice to the abuse, both physical and sexual, delivered by her husband. The saddest chapter for me to read did not even fill page 190 and was titled “Richard.” Anna tells her mother that her stepfather has been molesting her sister Susan who at the time is about 13. These heartbreaking lines appear, “And there were these little oval things in the medicine cabinet. Things that Susan was supposed to stick inside of her after he hurt her so she wouldn't get pregnant.” “He kept on hurting Susan, and Mamma kept on pretending nothing was happening.”

The second most disturbing chapter was “Lord of the Rings.” It was terrible enough to read about a mother allowing her husband to abuse his own kids, but when she allowed him to nearly kill her own little boy and then send him away for reading Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings made me feel sick. I know I need to read these books so I can recognize and empathize with children of dysfunction but it hurts so much. It is important for us to realize that there are probably more families like this one than we care to acknowledge in which incestuous relationships are not considered outside of the norm.

Meg Tilly's ability to tell us these stories in all their ugliness and goriness from the eyes and ears of a child is a gift to us and we must embrace it and thank her. You can go to Ms Tilly's site to learn just a bit more about her at

Meg Tilly and her sister Jennifer are both respected actresses. I wonder if Susan from the book is Jennifer. I wonder where their mother is now and what happened to Matthew, Katie, and to Will. Where did their step father go and could one ever forgive parents like theirs?

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