Monday, 5 November 2012

The Afterlife by Donald Antrim (4/5)

The back says: Donald Antrim's mother Louanne was a difficult woman: an operatically suicidal, chainsmoking, delusional alcoholic who even when sober believed that her cat Merlin was a descendant of the Arthurian necromancer. Seeing his own life bound up in her relentless deterioration, Donald Antrim embarks on this strange, marvellous memoir in an attempt to make sense of his mother and her legacy.

A series of tragic-comic adventures in psychological dysfunction, Antrim's personal journey takes him wandering across the Southern states of America, tracing the bust-ups, reconciliations, and migrations of his warring parents. Gradually he unpicks the stories of his childhood, and the characters: his handsome sportsman uncle; his hardworking, bewildered Episcopalian grandparents; and his mother herself - alarming, melodramatic, manipulative, reckless and brave. This is a vivid, unmissable Technicolor slideshow of a memoir.

I say: This was such a great read – and I don’t usually like to read memoirs. The reason I picked it up was because earlier this year I read The Verificationist by Antrim and I came across this one and thought ‘why the hell not?’ He is an amazing author, so why not give this memoir a go.

And I’m incredibly glad I did.

It starts off with Donald wanting to buy a new bed, and throughout his search for the perfect one he relates this undertaking to his relationship with his mother. It probably sounds weird to anyone who hasn’t lost someone close, but I find that I tend to do the same thing on occasion – one very simple and normal thing brings about memories of someone or something that happened before in your life. After that the narrative weaves between Donald’s memories of his mother, and family, and his own life. He talks at one point about his mother’s boyfriend who wanted Donald to help him look for a painting that he was obsessed about, and in that memory lays a lot of information of what his relationship was with his mother.

It’s a very tender book, but at the same time it’s not sentimental, and contains a lot of humour.

There is so much to explore in this book because Donald’s relationship with his mother was rather complicated, especially towards the end, and I am kind of in awe of him for writing it in such a candid way. The prose is beautiful due to its stark and unapologetic honesty; he’s not trying to glorify or vilify his mother, he’s just telling us how and what he thought of her – and life with her, which was far from easy.

Maybe I’ll start reading more memoirs after this because I truly connected with the way he defined his love for his troublesome mother, and even though it has nothing to do with me, I still really felt for and with him.

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