Tag Archives: Alcoholism

Big Eyes (2014)

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It seemed like a match made in heaven. Outwardly charming and charismatic realtor Walter (Christoph Waltz) wedded the wide-eyed artist Margaret Keane (Amy Adams,) making it possible for her to keep the sexist mid-20th century authorities from deeming her an unfit mother based on her unmarried status and taking her daughter away.

But Walter proved to be an untrustworthy , possessive pig, constantly berating and manipulating the terrified Margaret and taking credit for her work, a series of  slightly unnerving paintings of waifish children with enormous doe eyes. Caught between fear of her husband’s socioeconomic influence and her own happiness, Margaret stayed trapped for years in a loveless  marriage to a egomaniac monster of a husband.

The story of artist Margaret Keane and her fraught relationship with her conniving husband, Walter, seems like it could make a fascinating film, but what can one do with a script as shoddy as this? In “Big Eyes,” Amy Adams is as lovable as ever as the innocent Margaret, initially lulling the viewer into believing that the movie will be much, much better than it actually is.

Christoph Waltz, however, gives an unexpectedly atrocious turn as Walter, rendering all Amy Adams’ efforts to make a good movie out of a mediocre one obsolete. For people such as myself, who adored Waltz in “Inglorious Basterds” and “Django Unchained,” his performance is a devastating betrayal.

We know he can do better, but with his fiendishly cartoonish portrayal of Adams’ abusive husband, we half expect him to spirit a stack of Acme products out of thin air and futilely attempt to blow Margaret and her frightened daughter to Kingdom come. His performance is what transforms a average movie into something much less.

“Big Eyes” is an improvement over “Alice in Wonderland,” filmmaker Tim Burton’s earlier film of recent years? Ha! “Alice in Wonderland” was solid, gaudy entertainment, harmless to take the kids to and relax your brain with. “Big Eyes” tries to take on serious subject matter, and fails miserably.

I was initially really excited to see it because it sounded a lot different from Burton’s other work, but how disappointed I was when it turned out to be a shallow biopic with one-dimensional characterizations and… yes, a mortifying performance by an actor I used to like and respect.

Meanwhile, a supporting characterization by Danny Huston as an interested reporter seems perfunctory and uninteresting, placed haphazardly in the film simply so he can supply some backstory in the form of a voiceover. As “Big Eyes” veers into shameless, albeit star-studded ridiculousness, all I can think of is what a missed opportunity this was. Hopefully Burton will take his next project more seriously and not deteriorate into kitsch like he did in this sloppy and misfortunate misfire.

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The Winning Season (2009)

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Remember in “Fight Club” when Edward Norton says that when suffering from insomnia, “Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy”? Yeah, this film is kind of like that. It’s a movie shamelessly derivative of a another movie which is derivative of yet another movie. And here comes the bombshell.

I don’t like sports movies. Now you ask, why would someone who doesn’t like sports movies watch a film directly centered around girls’ basketball? Why, Sam Rockwell, of course, who can be charming and likable even in the most mediocre motion picture.

But for many a Sam Rockwell, there’s a Emma Roberts waiting to bungle up the movie. I just don’t like her in anything. To be fair, though, this time the fault isn’t Emma’s. It’s the script, which plays on every ‘inspirational sports movie’ trope known to man, and does it with the shameless belief that it will move you to tears, endear itself to you, and make you write a glowing review totally different from the one I’m writing now.

The plot is utterly familiar even if you know nothing going in– underachieving alcoholic loser and basketball-playing has-been Bill (Sam Rockwell) is working as a dishwasher when his old friend Terry urges him to coach Girls’ Basketball. The foul-mouthed, half-heartedly sexist Bill is convinced that girls playing basketball is a superfluous pastime, but he reluctantly agrees so he can quit his dishwashing job.

Right off the bat you wonder– what makes Terry think that Bill is up for coaching a bunch of high school girls? Why because he couldn’t find anyone else, of course. No one else? But I digress. Bill is a slovenly pig, a miserable knob who eats chicken fingers off of his customer’s plates and, initially at least, fails to show the girls one ounce of respect while coaching.

But you know off the bat (because this is this type of movie) that Bill will tag his ragtag team of losers and make them winners, inspiring the girls, and maybe, learning to face up to his inadequacies in the process. And of course Bill is the deadbeat father of a neglected teenage daughter (Shana Dowdeswell) and a disapproving ex-wife (Jessica Hecht) who has found Mr. Perfect and now takes every opportunity to passive-aggressively make Bill feel like shit.

As Bill gets embroiled in the girls’ individual dramas, he comes to the well-worn revelation that no, these girls don’t have game, but they have heart, and he can really make something out of their team. Even as Bill mans up and becomes a supportive coach, he isn’t really a very likable protagonist. I think it’s because he lacks any kind of substantial depth. Even his character is nothing more than a tired trope.

And does the director of this film think it’s dramatically satisfying to watch the entire basketball team haul the inebriated Bill into his apartment? It’s a fucking disgrace. If you get so drunk while coaching that you have to be carried like a baby by a bunch of 17-year-old girls, well, maybe you shouldn’t be a coach. It was shameful to watch, frankly.

Then we have the ‘big finale’ where Bill breaks into the  stadium where the climactic game is being held in full costume after being laid off and told to stay away from the team. I wonder if it was really worth it to run away from the police in a cape,  a wig, and full body paint as opposed to, y’know, waiting it out and taking the girls out for Shoney’s afterward.

Despite the film’s flaws (and boy, are they many,) most of the girls give charming performances (including Rooney Mara in a pre- Dragon Tattoo role) and Emma Roberts (as the pragmatic Abbie) isn’t as insufferable as usual. Let me put it this way- if you like basketball and cheesy, feel-good movies, you might like this, so don’t cross it off your to-see list yet.  I guess I’m the wrong audience for this movie. All I know is that Sam Rockwell can do better, and has.

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Into the West (1992)

Although it may be a little intense for young tykes due to its alcoholism, poverty, and prejudice themes, “Into the West” is an overall charming and appealing family film with a compelling storyline. It’s plot is hugely unbelievable (two Irish lads rescue their magnificent white horse from an abusive owner and ride across Ireland evading the authorities at every turn,) but something about this story touched a warm fuzzy place in my heart.

Gabriel Byrne plays the alcoholic father of two young boys, Ossie and Tito (Ciarán Fitzgerald and Rúaidhrí Conroy,) who live with their perpetually drunk dad in a squalid Irish tenement building. The boy’s grandfather (David Kelly) is the proud owner of Tir Na Nog, a beautiful white horse. When Tito and Ossie decide to smuggle Tir Na Nog into the apartment (not an easy feat considering the tiny size of the place is barely livable for a family of three,) the police confiscate the horse and give him to a shady and rich hobbyist.

The duo track down the horse-owner and steal back the steed, riding him across the hills and fields of Ireland and getting into all sorts of trouble along the way. Meanwhile, their father John gets back in touch with his gypsy heritage and reconnects with Kathleen (Ellen Barkin,) an old friend in an attempt to track his sons.

John is a interestingly compelling and three-dimensional character- sometimes volatile, sometimes violent, he loves his sons but constantly manages to disappoint them. He pressures the illiterate oldest (Tito) to learn to read because as it so happens, he cannot. Tito does not appreciate the fact that his father is trying to do what is best for him, and he and his brother believe John does not love them. Gabriel Byrne plays John as occasionally heroic, sometimes pathetic, but never as a blunt, angry stereotype.

There are fantasy elements considering the almost supernatural majesty of the horse, but they never take over the human element of the story, which is closer to British Social Realism than director Mike Newell’s later J.K. Rowling adaptation “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.” While “Goblet of Fire” is my favorite Harry Potter adaptation, “Into the West” is a little more low-key, more about growing up and learning to let go that sorcery and magic.

There are relevant social commentary (reflected by the prejudice towards the ‘travelers,’ the pressure of impoverished conditions, and the less-than-kosher treatment of the horse by the rich horse breeder,) and the acting is pretty strong overall, especially by Gabriel Byrne and the oldest son Rúaidhrí Conroy, although the performance by Ciarán Fitzgerald (Ossie) can be a little tiresome.

Overall, “Into the West” is a good kid’s movie with a lot of heart. Consider this a a superior alternative for teens and tweens to the the “Twilight” films and “Alvin and the Chipmunks- The Squeakquel” (God help me.) It is a rarity-  strong and underrated family film that remains interesting after you turn ten. Worth watching for kids and adults alike.

Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

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Ah, “Leaving Las Vegas.” I’ve seen it once and I don’t think I could bear to see it again. This movie features the absolute worst humanity has to offer and creates a skin-crawlingly lurid world of pathetic drunken sadsacks, emotionally scarred hookers, sadistic pimps, developmentally disabled rapists, all in the backdrop of a godforsaken world that just doesn’t care.

The thing is this is our world, the one we live in rather than a yuckily fascinating fantasyland, but it is this side of life that the more privileged don’t want to look at. Also, this is considered the movie where Nicolas Cage was good. How’s that for a shocking twist? Joking. Actually, Nicolas Cage has been halfway decent in a select few other movies. I liked him in “Joe,” and “Matchstick Men,” and he was okay in “Kick-Ass” I guess, though the Moretz kid ran circles around him and all the other actors.

“Leaving Las Vegas” is about pain, pure and simple. It’s about the pain that comes with being one of society’s forgotten ones, and the pain that accompanies orchestrating your own destruction. The protagonist, Ben Sanderson (Cage,) is drinking himself to death. Why? He just doesn’t give a shit. He’s been laid off from his job as a screenwriter, his wife has left him and taken his son with her.

He’s a perpetually drunk alcoholic, consumed by ennui and self-loathing, who believes he has nothing to live for. After his dismissal from his job, Ben moves to Las Vegas, burns all of his screenplays, and prepares to slowly die of alcohol poisoning. When he meets Sera (Elisabeth Shue,) a beguiling prostitute abused by her pimp (Julian Sands,) Ben falls head over heels.

Not enough to change for her- no, Ben’s long past the point to chance for anybody. He is simply content to be in her company. People don’t generally hire these women for idle chit-chat, so Sera’s all too happy to accommodate her worn-out client, who soon morphs into a friend and later into a live-in boyfriend.

Sera pretends to be a hardened Dame, but like Ben, she’s vulnerable and desperate. But unlike Ben, she has some small degree of hope. She builds a strange family for Ben and her where she is the happy homemaker and the ultimate enabler. The resulting film is an interesting character piece, and I guess Nicolas Cage IS good, along with Shue.

And I didn’t find any of the ensuing horror show unnecessary, until the ending. Potential viewers, avert your eyes, because this is going to get a bit spoiler-y. *********************SPOILERS I was astounded by the climactic scene, where Shue gives Cages a pity-fuck while Cage is lying on his death bed, wheezing and hacking. I guess the tragedy that is supposed to be portrayed in this scene is that they were unable to express their love physically until this sad moment, with Cage in a truly pitiful state.

But all I could think was how lurid and gross, and yes, unnecessary the scene was. It was like watching your feeble cancer-ridden Grandpa receive a blow-job from a lithe hooker before your very eyes. If Nic Cage were your grandfather, that is. Meh. Give or take a few years. *********************END OF SPOILERS

The characters being unlikable was not a problem. Shue and Cage imbue their portrayals with more compassion than these sad people probably deserve. The film, as a whole, was well-made. Watch it to see Cage at his best, but be forewarned, it’s terribly sad.

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Paperhouse (1988)

When I was a little girl, my younger brother and I were convinced if we strapped enough household wires to each other and fell asleep in the same bed, we could meet each other in our dreams. Of course, my mom told us it was impossible, but that didn’t stop us from trying. Children with my wild imagination and faith in the impossible would love the concept of “Paperhouse.”

Of course, “Paperhouse” has a very adult angle that makes it, ultimately, best for grown-ups. 11-year-old Anna (Charlotte Burke,) who is at that age where kids mouth off to their elders and will pick a fight over absolutely anything, faints in school on her birthday and is discovered to have a raging fever.

Bizarrely, when Anna faints, she discovers that when she’s unconscious or asleep, she enters a world entirely unlike her own- to be precise, to a remote house she has drawn before her dizzy spells began. In the house she meets a boy, physically handicapped Marc (Elliot Speirs, who died at a tragically young age,) who bears startling similarities to a boy with muscular dystrophy who Anna’s doctor (Gemma Jones) is seeing, and who Anna has never met outside to dream world.

Anna’s unspoken issues with her well-meaning but hard-drinking father (Ben Cross) show up too when a fictional recreation of dad shows up at Anna and Marc’s secret hideaway, raging, evil, and wielding a hammer. Caught between wakefulness and forever sleep by her life-threatening fever, Anna must fight for her sanity and her life, as well as the life of her newfound friend.

Contrary to certain opinions, I found the acting in this to be quite effective, from most of the child players as well as the adults. The kids aren’t always the best, but what do you expect with newbies to the craft? Despite her brattiness, I didn’t find Anna to be an unlikable character- actually, I saw her as a bright and willful child struggling to cope with a childhood harder than most.

The psychological angle here is really fascinating- Anna’s mostly loving if distant father becomes a malformed monster in her dreams, while her mother (Glenne Headly) fails or refuses to see her husband’s alcoholism and the rift between him and their daughter. It resounded with me for entirely personal reasons, and I loved the entertaining yet insightful script.

The set pieces here are also magnificent, and this movie has one of the scariest and most memorable dream sequences I’ve ever seen, the kind of thing that haunts the nightmares of any children unfortunate enough to watch it. The score, however, is mediocre- mostly typical 80’s movie music.

“Paperhouse” is an entertaining and  underrated gem of the 80’s, and although it’s not full blood horror, it has enough unnerving moments to make it ‘light horror’ for people who don’t like really intense scary movies. Although it’s not available as yet on Netflix, it’s totally worth getting online if you have a DVD player that will play it. This is a great film about childhood dreams or fears around the lines of “Pan’s Labyrinth” or “Coraline,” and definitely worth checking out. 

Take This Waltz (2011)



“Is that that Seth Rogen guy? What’s he doing?”

“I think he’s… acting.”

“Acting? You mean actually giving a performance without using immature fart or stoner humor as a crutch to compensate for an apparent lack of talent? Well, I’ll be… Do miracles never cease?”

Seth Rogen is, indeed, quite good in this. The scene where he expresses, in various takes, his shock and horror at his wife’s infidelity is revelatory. Overall, though, “Take This Waltz” is so-so, marred by a lack of likable characters and consistent dialogue.

I there’s one thing you can say about this movie, it’s that it doesn’t glorify the act of adultery in any way. Bored housewife Margot (Michelle Williams, who gives a very nice performance here) engages in cutie pie antics and baby talk with her husband, Lou (Seth Rogan,) but longs for passion and intimacy.

When Margot meets Daniel (Luke Kirby,) a handsome artist, sparks fly almost immediately. As it turns out (damn you, fate!,) Daniel lives right next door to Margot and Lou’s place, and temptation for indiscretion may be too much to resist. But what are the consequences for such an act?

I was underwhelmed by the dialogue here… sometimes it was really good, and sometimes it was cringe-worthy. It felt like the movie was divided into two different worlds- one where intelligent characters say intelligent things, and one where a verbal expression comes directly out of a third-rate sitcom.

The relationship between Lou and Margot was interesting. I could neither fully support it, nor deny it’s moments of comfort and familiarity. I can understand Margot’s need for a more intellectually stimulating relationship (as any reasonably intelligent person would presumably have,) as many of the ‘tender moments’ between them were saccharine or just plain icky.

However, we don’t really see a side of Daniel that allows us to understand Margot’s prompt crisis. In fact, some of the dialogue was just as vomit-inducing, and the scary thing is, I’m not even sure it was meant to be. For the most part, the characters were more exasperating then likable.

This would be a much better movie if not for the dives in quality of dialogue. “Take This Waltz”‘s acting is both fresh and powerful, as is it’s refusal to slap itself with a happy ending. However, I have difficulty recommending it and will, sighing, present my ambivalent review.

A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash

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“A Land More Kind Than Home” may well be one of the most beautiful, insightful, and gritty novels I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a rare thing for a book to take so far out of your range of experiences and hook you almost immediately, and this novel does exactly that, employing a cast of some of the most fascinating characters I’ve seen in ages. The focus is religion-gone-badly-awry and ignorance, with tragedy as a result, but never does it seem preachy or dicdactic.

Jess Hall is a precocious nine-year-old boy who is expected by default to take his thirteen-year-old, significantly Autistic brother Christopher (AKA Stump) everywhere he goes. The miracle of Jess’ character is that he doesn’t resent Stump in the least, as many young protagonists who serve as makeshift caretakers for their disabled siblings are. Jess and the gentle but entirely non-verbal Stump are as close as brothers can be expected to be, and they share a special bond that Jess doesn’t maintain with anyone else. Together they chase fireflies, catch salamanders, and amuse themselves exploring their rural North Carolina landscape.

Jess and Stump’s mom Julie is basically well-intentioned but a bit of an idiot, to be honest. She spends her time at the Baptist Church run by a shady and mysterious figure by the name of Carson Chambliss. The worshippers speak in tongues and dabble in snake-handling (AKA generally dodgy stuff,) and Jess’ atheistic pop Ben will have nothing to do with the diseased goings-on within the church. But when Jess and Stump catch wind of something they shouldn’t it is Stump who pays dearly.

The book is narrated by three POV characters- Jess, who is in too deep in the world of adults and still doesn’t entirely understand their affairs, is the center of the drama and arguably the lead. Adelaide Lyle is a good Christian and a very old lady who kind of also serves as the town wise woman. Clem Barefield is the sheriff, past his prime and dealing with his own demons. Resentments simmer in the small NC town of Marshall and explode into violent climactic confrontation.

I found the writing to be beautiful and literary without making a big show of itself (i.e. readable.) The narrative immediately grabs your attention as Addie recounts confronting Chambliss and being put in a threatening situation by the batty self-proclaimed prophet. If you’re interested in how “A Land More Kind Than Home” depicts Autism Spectrum Disorders, I found prose on Stump’s condition to be well-written and sensitively rendered.

On a side note, can I just say how much I wanted to shake Julie. I’ve NEVER seen a character in a book act as obtuse as she did. In the end, I found her almost as at fault in her ignorance as Chambliss was in his psychopathy. NO sympathy for her by the end of this novel. I thought all three POV’s worked extremely well to give us a multi-dimensional look into the story.

I want to read Wiley Cash’s second book “This Dark Road to Mercy”  as soon as possible. “A Land More Kind Than Home” is a rollicking good read and a beautiful piece of literature in its own right.

Nebraska (2013)

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While some might find “Nebraska” to be an unmitigated bore, I was touched, surprised, and entertained by this black-and-white, refreshingly naturalistic gem. The people look like real human beings (fat, thin, attractive, ugly) and the situations seem to have come out of an actual person’s life. What could have played off as a timeworn punchline to a familiar sitcom instead proves to be in turn genuinely funny and profoundly affecting.

Well-meaning son David (Will Forte) has problems- namely, his dad’s rapidly approaching senility and consistent fondness for alcohol. Now, director Alexander Payne could have made the old man a wisecracking, skirt-chasing stereotype- a ‘high-on-life’ old lush. But that doesn’t happen. David’s Dad, Woody (Bruce Dern,) remains a satisfyingly grounded character.

Woody keeps on wondering off to collect his one million dollar ‘winnings’ he supposedly earned according to a piece of junk mail. Despite Woody’s heckling wife Kate (June Squibb)’s and disapproving older son Ross (Bob Odenkirk)’s objections, David takes Woody on a drive to Nebraska to prove, once and for all, that Woody has not won anything. Unsurprisingly, the two bond as they embark on a road trip, as they drink at bars (not a good idea for the alcoholic father or the recovering son,) reminisce, argue, and visit family.

One word to describe this film would be ‘bittersweet.’ I was pleased to see that the mom and David’s ex both were significantly overweight. Details like that gave the film a very real vibe. The acting is excellent. I understand Will Forte is mostly in really bad comedies, but he really sold it here. Bruce Dern was really, really good. Really, really, really good.

June Squbb was convincing although I wanted to slap the old biddy silly the entire movie (if she mentions one more man from her past who wanted to ‘get into her bloomers,’ I swear I’ll… aargghh.) Bob Odenkirk, who played in “Breaking Bad” and might be getting his own career-defining spin-off, “Better Call Saul,” made the most of a smallish role. His ‘fight scene’ with one of his thuggish cousins had me in hysterics.

The conclusion of “Nebraska” is unexpected but very moving. You end up treasuring David more as a character than you would have had it ended differently. I think this was an improvement upon his last film, “The Descendents.” The former was a good movie too but I think this dares to be a little more different. Maybe  people will look past the black and white and the slow pace and see what I saw in it. That is my hope for this movie.

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Against Medical Advice by James Patterson & Hal Friedman

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As a sufferer of severe OCD, stories about the disorder have been of interest to me throughout my life. Although I wished that the boy who actually had the disorder, Corey Friedman, had written the book instead of his father (writing in his son’s voice) and bestseller James Patterson, I have to admit that they did a good job of bringing Corey’s voice to life. In this case, Corey was doubly unlucky- instead of just suffering Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, he was also afflicted with a particularly extreme case of Tourette’s Syndrome. His woes began, like me, when he was five years old, when he began to tic daily, a cycle that included shaking his head violently, breaking his teeth by biting down on them with brute force, and tearing his muscles with jarring bodily movements.

Corey’s life came to a stand-still as his body began to turn against him. As he grew into a troubled teen, he found that more often than not psychiatric medications had drastic side effects, and the only ‘medication’ he could really count on was alcohol. Corey went to various therapist’s and tried various meds, but his devastating illness wouldn’t yield. Eventually, he found he had to fight ferociously for his life.

This is a heartwrenching story but also an inspiration to those who suffer from mental disorders, because Corey eventually beat his illness. I loved the subject matter of this book but sometimes found the writing a little underwhelming. It seems like Corey’s dad has to explain his son’s behavior and apologize for him in a overblown way. It also features a lot of cliche and hyperbole typically attributed to the young adult genre, i.e. ‘my face burned, my heart ached’ that I think should be cut back on. Hal Friedman often tried too hard to speak in a ‘teen voice,’ which could be just plain awkward at times.

Despite these setbacks, this is really a good read, especially for someone like me who has been on a ton of medications throughout their life. Your body gets used to the medicines to the point where they don’t even take effect anymore. It’s true, I’ve lived it. Then you go through the hassle of going on a new medication that might make you sleep all the time, etc. Except in Corey’s case, the symptoms were much more severe. This book made me realize how lucky I was when for years I felt like the most wretched person in the world because of my uncontrollable thoughts.

This book has it’s drawbacks, but it tells a good story poignantly. I was disappointed to find out that ‘Med Head: my Knock-Down, Drag-Out, Drugged-Up Battle With My Brain’ was just an adaptation of this book written to appeal to teens rather than a separate work written by Corey himself, as I thought it was at first. It was obvious Corey had a good mind beneath his ticcing, twitching, ineffectual body and I really wish him the best as he begins his normal life free of the symptoms that plagued him for years.

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The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

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Truth is truly stranger than fiction, and Jeanette Walls, the wildly talented author of The Glass Castle‘s childhood being ‘raised’ by nomadic, outrageously negligent parents, was weirder than most. The said parents (if you could call them that, since parenting or even being adults was not their perogitive), Rex and Rose Mary Walls, were an anomaly- self-taught and highly intelligent people who had no concern for their childrens’ welfare and made no effort to make those awkward adolescent and pubescent years any more tolerable. The Glass Castle reminded me of Augusten Burrough’s blackly comic account of familial insanity Running With Scissors, only less sensationalistic.

This memoir will move you, make you angry, and kick your parental instincts into overdrive. Jeanette Walls and her siblings move from place to place, on the run from the ‘FBI’ and ‘the Gestapo’ (i.e. the tax collectors and the authorities.) Jeanette’s mom is an flaky, unstable artist who wants nothing to with her children. Her dad is a big-talking B.S.-er who can weasel himself out of any tough situation, except for the disintegration of his family unit. Together- the Walls children must take care of each other, facing sexual abuse, poverty, bullying, and other hardships.

I respect Jeanette’s unconditional love for her parents, but I really had no sympathy for them, even when they ended up on the streets of New York. The author really is a born storyteller, but there were times I had my doubts that she really remembered the events she was documenting with the lucidity she claimed. Walls gave detailed descriptions of things that she recalled from childhood; sometimes I wondered if she was taking liberties with her material. This isn’t really a criticism- a lot of memoirists do add improbable details- just an observation.

Walls develops her three siblings well so that you almost feel like you knew their childhood selves. Brian was my favorite- he was a tough cookie. It doesn’t take just any seven-year-old to chase a pedophile out of their house with a hatchet. At least one kid was irreparably damaged by the events of their childhood, the rest seemed to make the best of it as well as they could.

The bizarre thing is that the author only records her father hitting her once, so calling the parents ‘abusive’ might seem like a bit of a stretch to people who haven’t read the book. But between the dad’s abuse of the mom and both parties’ total disregard for the safety of their children, in the end, it’s hard to consider the parents anything other than abusive. Some of the aspects of their childhood seem desirable- freedom, being encouraged to read great literature- but others are atrocities that stand up against the hardest childhood memoirs.

I would highly recommend this book because it is beautifully written and has a fascinating story. Some scenes might be triggering to victims of sexual abuse- I’d nearly run out of fingers if I counted how many times the Walls children are mishandled, either by neighborhood kids or family or strange adults, and their parents’ apathy is infuriating. What is best is Jeanette Walls keeps a certain distance from the material and avoids self-pity. With tenderness, wit, and deft touches of dark humor, she tells the story of a childhood that would break the hardest individuals.