I generally don’t post negative reviews, whether I am in the minority or the majority. I know firsthand how upsetting it feels to be on the receiving end of them, and have often asked myself why readers would feel compelled to post harsh criticisms unless they’re purely peeved. (In those instances when I don’t like a book, I mark it “read” on Goodreads  with no rating and leave it at that.) I therefore hope I will not get “trashed” for voicing a minority view on this one; I do so only to explain my three-star rating on Goodreads, and with the stipulation that these are just my own opinions.

Like many of the low-star reviewers, I really wanted to love this book because it was recommended to me by a friend and colleague. But it did not hold my interest and I found myself not especially wanting to return to it. I kept at it, though, because I expected it to improve and wanted to have the complete picture before rendering judgment. In the end, for me it fell flat.

The writing, while sometimes clever and often humorous, utterly lacked any richness of emotion. I think that is why I could not get engaged, despite the sometimes attention-grabbing goings-on. The author cloaks some rather horrific events with an opaque mask of what I believe to be desensitization. For example, her mother supposedly shot her boyfriend, Hector, but in the next scene, he is perfectly fine and we are back to shenanigans. The mother nearly drove her two kids purposefully off a bridge escaping a tornado, and yet, other than the author’s internal confusion in doubting what had just happened, they arrived at their destination moments in front of the storm no worse for wear. Did these things actually happen that way, or were they supposed to be the product of an overactive childhood imagination? This was not entirely clear to me, and I think in order for such scenes to pack punch, they have to be described in such a way that the reader can connect with why it mattered enough to the protagonist (in this case, the author) to tell about it.

In a similar vein, the terror the author felt for her grandmother was somehow not relatable, despite the fact that Karr presents her as a frightful character and the climax at the end (regarding her prosthetic leg) was rather jolting. Again, despite good writing, some indefinable element was missing that caused the entire thing to fall flat.

I agree with several reviewers that these parents, while quirky, unstable, and substance-addicted, were not abusive per se, but were like many parents: well-intentioned, loving, and often genuinely endearing, but addled by their own issues. In this regard, I saw many similarities with Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle, and must agree that is by far a superior book in this genre.

I found the neat little “wrap-up” at the end to be a rather rushed and academic recitation of events meant to tie the whole lukewarm muddle together and justify that the mother was genuinely crazy. Presented that way, it fizzled even while providing legitimate answers. By that point, the answers were almost superfluous. I think this explanation could have been handled much better if it hadn’t been tagged on like an afterthought.

Finally, I agree with other reviewers that many of the events recounted in this book were tedious and extraneous, and made it boring in places. That said, there are two graphic scenes that stand out, those being the instances of childhood sexual abuse. Though well-written, the first was blighted by the author’s real-time rant against her perpetrator. Don’t get me wrong, Karr is more than justified in harboring feelings of anger and resentment, but her memoir is not an appropriate public forum for such a personal censure. The second scene, though less inherently violent, is the more unsettling of the two because of the creepy, twisted, and languidly realistic (yet bizarrely artistic) depiction of this horrendous event. Though I almost couldn’t go on reading, because of the powerful realism and captivating writing, I must sourly elevate this book from three to three-and-a-half stars, even if that blasted emotional component remained stubbornly absent. Perhaps that is simply what happens when a child suffers this type of abuse at the hands of an adult.