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An Abbreviated Life
Ariel Leve
Harper

I’ll come straight out and say that I didn’t enjoy this memoir at all.  However, this doesn’t mean that I would discourage anyone else from reading it.  I am a little sensitive to what I think of as ‘pity porn’; it is a genre I steer well clear of, as I’m not sure what I can gain from reading about other people’s abusive childhoods.

I can, however, understand what the writer gained from spilling out their hurt and anger onto the page: there is something very cathartic in writing about one’s upbringing.  It’s just that it can only ever be one-sided.  Memory is not a video tape that a person can rewind and examine.  For that reason, I would never write an account of my own childhood, while I do gain an emotional release by discussing it obliquely in my poetry and short stories.

I don’t believe that Ariel Leve has deliberately distorted her childhood here, it’s just that she has selected the aspects of it that show her mother in the worst light possible and transforms her (mostly absent) father into some sort of godlike figure (although I kept thinking that her idolisation of him is probably undeserved).

I recently read Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs which seemed a grotesquely distorted view of his childhood, and in his case, it resulted in a lawsuit against him by his ‘adoptive’ family.

Ariel Leve does not name her famous mother in this book, but it is fairly easy to work out who she is: the poet, Sandra Hochman.  From Leve’s account she comes across as histrionic, abusive, narcissistic and emotionally unstable.  However, she was also talented, vibrant, interesting, rich and successful: surrounding herself with fascinating people from the world of art and literature.  She provided Ariel Leve with a privileged upbringing in materialistic and intellectual terms, but failed to provide her with the stability and nurturing a child needs and deserves.

Leve says that her childhood has resulted in ‘brain damage’ and there is probably no worse accusation a child can throw at their mother.  However, this book seemed like character assassination and I didn’t really feel comfortable reading it.  I wonder if Ariel Leve will one day regret publishing it?  It felt very much like revenge, rather than a laying to rest of past events.

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