Memoir is a tricky, tricky genre. It seems simple enough, everyone has a story whether they know it or not, but I've found that while a lot of people have a story (or many stories) very few people can identify the ones worth telling, or tell them in a way that is actually entertaining and insightful rather than self-indulgent and horrible. I've read many memoirs in my life because when they're good, they're really good; but when they're bad they are horrid.
Thankfully, The Rules of Inheritance is one of the good ones, though it's really difficult to say that I enjoyed this book (that will become clear, stick with me), it certainly made me think.
Claire Bidwell Smith was 14-years-old when both of her parents were diagnosed with cancer within months of each other, "I've already come to the conclusion that I will probably be parentless by the time I am thirty" she realizes.
What follows is a story of tragedy and loss but ultimately redemption and healing. What makes this book worth reading, is the way that the author relives the experience--warts and all-- and takes the reader on the journey of loss and finally realizing in the end that while it's never easy to lose the people that you love and need most, you can live through it, and find good in it (but not in a schmaltzy way). Claire's mother dies first, while she is in college, and her father dies years later when she is a young adult. Her mother was a powerful force in her life, as I think mothers are with most young girls--for good or for bad, and she realizes after her mother is gone that if her mother had not died first, she would have never gotten to know her father.
|Australian cover-author's mother|
I just included it because I like this cover better
Personally, I'm not close with my parents (we're not enemies, we just don't have much in common), but I've never thought about how everything I know and do would change so fundamentally if they were gone. I've never thought about it because I honestly believe that they'll live forever, and because I choose to focus on more pleasant things. More than just losing a check and a card on my birthday and at x-mas, I would really lose my safety net (the one I hope I never really need, but am always glad is there). Despite the fact that this book deals with a young girl losing both her parents at a very young age (mid-twenties is a very young age), it's really not a downer book, just a thought-provoker, and it provokes thoughts that I never would have arrived at otherwise.
Another reason that the book works is because of the honesty of the author. She isn't trying to detail a grand experience (like a self-centered frenemy) or write a 'woe is me' melodrama, it's just an account of what happens to Claire when her parents get sick and ultimately die. She's no stoic, she makes poor choices, she drinks too much, she shaves her head she drops out of college, but eventually she grows up and figures herself out. It's a coming of age story about someone for whom the path to growing up wasn't quite traditional.
Disclosure: I received a copy of the book (which I donated to the library) and compensation from Blogher.com, but my opinions, as always, are completely mine.