The BUZZ: Latest memoir from the author of Don’t Let’s Go To The Dogs Tonight, and Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness
The GIST: In her third memoir, Alexandra Fuller untangles the breakdown of her marriage to Charlie Ross, whom she met and fell in love with in Zambia. His calm, capable persona promised rescue from her turbulent world, which included a childhood during civil war in Rhodesia, sexual abuse, and the drowning of her younger sister. She plows ahead, leaning on the steadfast models of her stoic parents. Fuller and Ross leave Africa after the birth of their first child because they’re unable to earn a living, and she’s suffering from malaria. Trouble in the marriage is clear from the beginning, although perhaps just to the reader. They head to Wyoming, where Charlie summered as a privileged child on his grandmother’s ranch. Away from the land she worships and depends on to define herself, Fuller becomes fragile. The qualities she admired in Charlie turn into irritants, and their dissimilar temperaments collide. She struggles to understand how her parents’ marriage, wounded by the loss of three children, two wars, mental illness and alcoholism, could survive, thrive even, when her own cannot weather financial stresses and her husband’s terrible horseback-riding accident. The pieces of the puzzle come together at the end, with small bits of clarity, as Fuller examines how her history has shaped her.
The WRITING: Colorful and moving. Africa’s allure and danger glitter, just as beautifully as the portraits Fuller creates of her parents. Her father’s amusing voice is like a character out of a Roald Dahl book. The account of her mother is equally captivating, with endearing quotes and anecdotes that leave the reader wanting more time with her. A recurring theme for Fuller is mental illness, as she recounts her mother’s challenges, and considers her own tenuous grip on sanity. Another interesting element in Fuller’s story is her investigation of our passion for and attachment to land – why we define ourselves the way we do, and the consequences of fastening our identity to something that seems meaningful but is, in fact, not secure.
BUY or BORROW? Borrow. Fuller’s memoirs are raw, but her exotic family history makes for compelling reading.
“Charlie didn’t burn through the present, or drown it out, or wash up against it, because his past had left him intact. He had a future to look forward to.”