From Publishers Weekly
As a child growing up in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest in the late 1960s and '70s, the author watched her mother move between relationships, leaving men before they could leave her, a pattern she acknowledges she later emulated. In her debut book, Fraser, a University of Iowa MFA graduate, looks at her personal history through a periscope, examining her life in terms of her relationships with men, starting and ending with her often absent, alcoholic father. At times moving, occasionally self-indulgent and ultimately uneven, Fraser's narrative covers some 30 years in chronological, vignette-like chapters. She writes poetically about her earliest years, successfully evoking a child's sense of wonder and curiosity about her world. The typical rites of passage she describes later envying other girls' clothing, trying to attract a boyfriend are less interesting and the language more cliched ("I thought of Hawaii, picturing the envy on my classmates' and teachers' faces when I told them the news. I'd leave the wet gloom of Portland, take off on a shiny white plane, and learn to surf and hula dance..."). Not surprisingly, Fraser's substitute fathers her mother's male companions, her own romantic and sexual partners, fellow grad students, men she teaches in prison don't fill the void left by her father. Toward the end, she turns more reflective and offers some fine passages about reconciling her idealized notion of her father (gentle) with the real man ("elusive" and self-destructive). Despite its virtues, Fraser's memoir won't garner favorable comparison to works by writers who have traversed similar territory.
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Fraser's childhood was marked both by multiple moves around the West Coast and Hawaii and by the various men who came in and out of her mother's life and, therefore, her own. Her parents separated when she was very young, and although Fraser stayed with her mother, her father remained an important part of her life. Both parents drifted from partner to partner, and both battled alcoholism. Fraser learned to either fit in or disappear when she needed to, both in school and at home. While one of her "fathers" treated her with love and calm affection, another was sexually abusive. And then there were the men Fraser chose, from her respectful high-school boyfriend to the husband she couldn't connect with. Fraser gradually began to see what she had in common with her distant mother and her writer father, even as she recognized their failings. A thoughtful, reflective memoir of a young woman coming of age and navigating the examples her parents have set for her. Kristine Huntley
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