When my book “Mama Knows Breast: A Beginner’s Guide to Breastfeeding” came out last fall, I did a “virtual book tour” on the site Mother-Talk. Now, I’m on the other end of a book tour. I’m reviewing “The Sky Isn’t Visible From Here,” by Felicia Sullivan.
Typically, I write about parenting matters, and more specifically breastfeeding. So this is a major diversion for me. “Sky” is not about babies or kids. Not even close. But it is, in excruciating detail, an example of how parenting styles indelibly mark, and in the worst cases, deeply scar, children. It’s a memoir, and Felicia Sullivan describes growing up in Brooklyn and eventually succeeding on her own in Manhattan.
Here’s the book’s description from Felicia’s website:
Felicia Sullivan’s volatile, beautiful, deceitful, drug-addicted mother disappeared on the night Sullivan graduated from college, and has not been seen or heard from in the ten years since. Sullivan, who grew up on the tough streets of Brooklyn in the 1980s, now looks back on her childhood—lived among drug dealers, users, and substitute fathers. Sullivan became her mother’s keeper, taking her to the hospital when she overdosed, withstanding her narcissistic rages, succumbing to the abuse or indifference of so-called stepfathers, and always wondering why her mother would never reveal the truth about the father she’d never met.
Ashamed of her past, Sullivan invented a persona to show the world. Yet despite her Ivy League education and numerous accomplishments, she, like her mother, eventually succumbed to alcohol and drug abuse. She wrote The Sky Isn’t Visible from Here, a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, when she realized it was time to kill her own creation.
While that description just about says it all, it doesn’t convey the emotion within the pages. I first picked up the book as I was supposed to be getting ready to take my son to school. I stood in the bathroom, wrapped in a towel, toothbrush sticking out of my mouth, transfixed. I had intended to read just one page of the prologue, but I couldn’t stop. We just barely made it to school on time that day.
Sullivan has the ability to make the reader both see, and feel, her world. There are paragraphs like this:
A week before my twelfth birthday, I woke to the smell of buttermilk pancakes and brown butter. I could hear skillets crackling and hissing. I tiptoed into the kitchen to find my mother cooking me an elaborate breakfast. Sugared blueberries, raspberries, and diced bananas spilled out of small glass bowls. Fried sausage links and hotcakes topped with rich maple syrup covered my plate. The abundance of food irked me. We’d been living on thirty-nine-cent packets of Oodles of Noodles for two weeks…In my room, double knotting my shoelaces, I wondered what my mother wanted from me. (page 147).
And there are the heartbreaking passages:
Sometimes people ask, Would I find her if I could, don’t I want to find her, doesn’t she want to be found and forgiven? As if it’s up to me alone to find her. To make mother and daughter whole. People take comfort in these reconciliation stories; they can’t manage the black and white of it, the possibility that love can be extinguished, that, when continuously tested, love can dissolve. Love is conditional…With her, love and fear were one and the same, with every kiss came a pinprick, with every hug came a lashing out. My mother was my first hurt. (p. 24-25)
At the end of the book, Sullivan describes spending time with her mother when things seemed less chaotic, and even fun. It would have been interesting to read more about this period Sullivan labels “before cocaine.” Additional descriptions of the days before her mother’s drug addiction took over might have added yet another layer of complexity to the book. Even so, the struggle to reconcile good and bad memories of the same person is clear.
We all have our hurts and secret agonies. We all have frustrations. Especially when it comes to our parents. Sometimes we share these thoughts with other people. Sometimes we don’t. It takes a lot of energy to analyze yourself, and even more, to put these thoughts into words. Not to mention words that other people might want to read. Quite honestly, I don’t know how writers like Sullivan do it.
For more information, you can visit Sullivan’s blog here.
And to read the other blogger reviews, go to Mother-Talk.
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