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NORMA JEAN'S SUN is a first novel in the form of a memoir for artist/writer Kris Courtney and as a first attempt the flaws of style and experience are to be expected: once on paper, in the public's hands, the compositional decisions can not be painted over as they can in the author/artist's paintings. The story is a bizarre one and had Courtney not elected to start from history and escort us to the present it would seem just another dysfunctional family epic.

But Courtney overcomes the bumps in the road of writing by providing the reader with an actual account of the development of a problem and how that problem has resolved. His family history includes incest that resulted in the bearing of a child with double the indemnity of passing on a flawed gene pool magnified in subsequent generations. And so Norma Jean gives birth to Kris, a child with multiple profound skeletal deformities and webbing of digits that required full body cast at birth (separating him from the succor of a mother's hands and causing a sense of shame to the father), a condition so severe that it took in excess of twenty surgeries in an attempt to correct the deformities. The story takes us through the family problems partially initiated by the presence of the 'burdensome' Kris, Kris' maturation and antisocial behavior, his attempt to escape his plight in alcoholism and drugs, his failed marriage and feared production of a child, to the eventual and gradual demise of those in his family who succumbed to cancer and the diseases of the aging brain. The story ends with the post-incarceration changes developed through AA that have led the author to a successful life as an artist.

What makes this book different and easy to read is the personal manner in which Courtney writes: 'I know that most of you who read this will struggle with, perhaps even reject, the idea that I have lived my entire life feeling as if an existence as Frankenstein was my only fate in life. But since I can recall, I have had the overwhelming desire that when I met someone new, he will look me in the eye and not be compelled or distracted to look at my body, my hands, or the mental equipment supporting them.' And at the end of his book he writes: 'If you have ever wondered about another human who is different from you in appearance, try to find the similarities, not the differences. We are more alike than we are different.'

It is this kind of brave honesty of confession and growing philosophy that makes the book unique. The book is designed to include many photographs of Kris' childhood and family but they are not accompanied by listing who we are seeing so they have little meaning or significance except to accompany Courtney's intention that this memoir should read and feel to the reader very real. He has accomplished that. Grady Harp, November 10
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on February 28, 2011
Kris Courtney's grandparents made a decision that would have terrible ramifications. As first cousins, their relationship was forbidden, but even though they were aware of the consequences of their actions, they chose to marry anyway.

Because of the choice they made, Courtney and his cousins were affected, though none as much as Kris himself. Birth defects too numerous to list here have plagued him his whole life, and surgery after surgery couldn't correct what nature had done to his body.

As a result of his physical deformities, Courtney had to develop a coping mechanism, and his choice turned out to be his undoing. In Norma Jean's Sun Kris Courtney details his struggles with his disabilities as well as his uncontrollable alcoholism and drug addiction.

Although it would be tempting for the author to blame those directly responsible for his misfortunes, Courtney shows refreshing forgiveness to those family members who had no idea what they would ultimately do to him. He is gracious in praising those who assisted him in his lowest times, acknowledging the sacrifices they made for him. And he also gives credit to his Higher Power, whom he calls God, in saving him from himself and his addictions.

Ultimately, Courtney is still dealing with his disabilities, but through God's grace, he has been sober and functioning for many years now. He thrives as an artist in Ohio, and he is attempting to give back to those organizations who are working on cures for the ailments his family has suffered from.

Norma Jean's Sun is no light reading. In fact, you'd probably hear a story like Courtney's if you walked into an open twelve-step meeting. But there's always hope, even for the most hopeless case, and Courtney proves that no matter how far down a man goes, he can still turn it around and have a good life.

Reviewer: Alice Berger
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on December 10, 2014
The author has a very interesting story to tell as he recounts his family life beginning with his grandparents and on through his own adult life. However, I think he focuses a bit too much outwardly. Based on the first maybe 50% of the book, it seems that the author is intrigued with his family history for one small reason: his grandparents were also cousins. It was/is taboo and caused some friction within the family and in their small town. The author spends a good deal of time detailing their love story, as if in an effort to convince the reader that they're not bad people - they were just in love and happened to be related. I don't think it was really necessary to justify it that much to an outside audience (because, let's face it, cousins marrying each other isn't really that big of a deal in this modern world). The need to justify that to the reader, I believe, has to do with the fact that some of the family members had health conditions (both minor and major) that they believed were "caused" by being part of an incestuous bloodline. There was a lot of resentment and guilt all around. It's really too bad that no one ever had a better understanding of genetics. The afflictions, at least as outlined in this book, are NOT "caused" by their lineage and I think any geneticist could have told them that.

Unfortunately, the family did not have that level of information which set the tone for a lot of secret resentments and hurt feelings even before the author is born. And when he is born, with significant malformations of his limbs, it seems to send the family into another shame spiral. He is, by all accounts, handled to the best of their abilities. He has numerous surgeries and corrective braces, etc. but beyond the medical care what he needed was some compassion instead of a need to be insular and hide. He and his mother move across the country many times each time severing friendships and interactions with the community - which are important to a child's development, especially one who is shy. Ultimately, this leaves a young man who lacks confidence and ends up getting himself in all manner of trouble for many, many years before finally settling down and writing this book.

I think the story was good and the author clearly has a passion for his topic. I would have liked to see more from his perspective, rather than through the smudgy lens of the family history. He has a unique view of the world - someone born into a family of 'secrets' and shame, someone who has overcome physical challenges, someone who has persevered through adversity, someone who has had problems with drugs and alcohol, and someone who has overcome all of those things. THAT is the story that I would like to see developed, from his own first-hand view. Maybe a future book?
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on October 8, 2010
Kris Courtney is a true artist who paints his world in words. He
wrote this book as a tribute to the grandmother and the mother he
loved. His picture is one of hardship and suffering, the ups and
downs of life, that would make many cringe, but amazingly Kris
looks on the bright side of life and the positive side in all
things.

Anyone who has experienced any of life's roller-coaster moments
can appreciate the memoir Courtney has written and the effort
that went into its completion. I highly recommend his book, and
hope you are able to get through it to the end. It is his story
that he wanted to share with the world and it's an eye-opener to
the attitude toward accepting those who are different from us.
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on July 12, 2014
If this is a true story I can not imagine the pain that Kris went through with all his operations and the pain associated. I really had a hard time keeping up with the story because of the ups and downs in his life. I have no idea what I would do if I had been born different from other children but I imagine I would also have a hard time finding my place in the world.
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on October 3, 2012
After meeting this author I read his book. At that time i wrote a review that did not reflect my views. I went easy on the review because I knew him and I wanted to be kind. Since I have gotten to know him better i found out he prefers the truth even if it hurts his feelings so I've decided to write an honest review. I found the writing style and grammar to be awkward, with no natural flow. The story jumped around so much that I had difficulties keeping up with what was what and who was who. In my humble opinion there is no meat on the bones of this book. Thankfully I downloaded it when it was free.
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on April 4, 2010
This is a very powerful and moving memoir of the author's struggle through a difficult life. The poor grammar and language usage, while distracting, can be overlooked because they fit the tone of the story and the class of people that are being described.
I found that I did not want to put the book down, as I was very interested to find out what would happen next. It is an unfortunate tale of a life with a few bright spots and many dark ones. I felt a great deal of empathy for the author as I read about his struggles.
Ultimately, the writing of this book was a therapeutic experience for Mr. Courtney and he wished to share his story with the world. It may not be for everyone, but I recommend at least giving it a chance.
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on July 13, 2014
A journey through life made so very difficult by a family choice in the not so distant past. Written in an easy reading style, I enjoyed every page. The author expresses so well the effort put forth and the price paid to become a functional person capable of some independence and happiness. It illustrates well how our difficulties are owned by us alone, no one can even imagine the aloneness of the individuals struggles no matter what well meaning words they use to express empathy.
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on June 20, 2014
I had the pleasure of meeting Kris Courtney a while ago and found his book as interesting as he was in person. I finished the book in about three days because once I started reading it I couldn't put it down. He tells his life story the way it was with a lot of us when we were young men and even though I was not born with handicaps like Kris I still identified with some of the difficulties that he experienced while growing up.
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on July 25, 2014
Having attend school with the author, I never noticed his limitations or insecurities. I remember a young man with an engaging grin and a friendly hello as we passed in the hallways. As he says "we are more alike than we are different." As a man, the author has become a successful artist, creating beautiful works of art through his paintbrush. The memoir was riveting and I finished the book in one sitting. I recommend this book to anyone who has obstacles to overcome or fears to face.
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