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A Memoir Written Like A Painting
on November 30, 2010
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