18 March 2011 ~ 0 Comments

Swallow the Ocean: A Memoir by Laura M. Flynn

Imagine you’re just a little girl. Now imagine you’re a little girl with a mother with schizophrenia. Now imagine you’re a little girl with a mother with schizophrenia and a father that has to get out of the situation. You’ve just summed up the early life of Laura Flynn.

**** Warning: There’s spoilers in here. I cannot review it without them, so… be warned ****

This is a hard book to read at times. Laura grew up in the 70s where the kids’ custody were pretty much always placed with the mother. I must give her father major props for doing the best he could and giving the kids the most normal life he could when he had them and continuing to fight the good fight. He could have easily turned his back on the entire situation. He also seemed to be very open and kept talking to his kids.

It’s super well written. Parts of it have a feeling of being in a fog, of looking at a scene play out from behind smoky glass. You see it, but you aren’t completely sure if you can believe what you are seeing. I also really liked that the author made sure to say what things everyone remembered, but at the same time say “I remember this, but my sisters do not..” It felt honest. It felt real.

I found parts of this tough to read, I wanted to barge into that house and make those girls some spaghetti with garlic bread and play Battleship. I wanted to call someone and MAKE them come help with the situation. I wanted to talk to them as adults and know more about how they are coping with some of the crazy things that happened and how they are able to still maintain relationships with their mother. I wanted so much. I think this is the mark of a good memoir though. I felt invested in these kids and their lives.

One of the quotes I wrote down from this book was “There’s almost no limit to what you can shelter within you.” and I think that sums it up pretty well and was quite insightful and painfully true. What I was left wondering is if the author continues to hold all of that in or if she’s managed to let some of it go. She seems to gloss over her own life and feelings today. I get that it was more of a memoir of her life with her mother, but I really wanted to know about where she is in her own life today.

Let me end by saying that I’m not sure I agree with one of the key statements of this book. Towards the end, she tells us of her mother’s life today and says “Isolation was the route she’d chosen and one we had accepted, to some extent, all these years. We had to ask ourselves, if she’d indeed been suffering from a disease of an organic nature all along and we’d never forcibly intervened before, how could we justify hospitalizing her now when she was too weak to defend herself?” I’m not sure I agree. Knowing how her mother chose to live and how they’ve allowed her to live doesn’t make it right. I really wanted this book to end with her mother getting help. I realize that it’s easy for me to say and I’ve never been in the situation myself, so I’m trying hard not to judge, but part of me really wanted something different for Sally.

I recommend this for anyone that enjoys memoirs, but also for those that may be dealing with mental illness in their own family or just has an interest in.

When Laura Flynn was a little girl, her beautiful, dynamic mother, Sally, was the center of her imagination. It wasn’t long, however, before Sally’s fun-loving side slowly and methodically became absorbed by madness. As Laura’s parents divorced and her father struggled to gain custody, Sally’s symptoms bloomed in earnest while Laura and her sisters united in flights of fancy of the sort their mother taught them so that they might deflect the danger threatening their fragile family.
Set in 1970s San Francisco, Swallow the Ocean is redolent with place. In luminous prose, this memoir paints a most intimate portrait of what might have been a catastrophic childhood had Laura and her sisters not been resilient and determined enough to survive their environment even as they yearned to escape it.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Book count for 2011: 19

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