9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A satisfying, not overly neat, conclusion,
This review is from: Her Last Death: A Memoir (Hardcover)
Susanna Sonnenberg led a luxurious life as a child of privilege. When she was three years old, Bob Dylan lived next door. Susanna's parents divorced, and she moved to a deluxe New York hotel with mother Daphne and sister Penelope. Daphne drove a taxi, often bringing along her daughters in order to get bigger tips from fares. She began to date, was charismatic and popular, and had fabulous stories to tell, some of which were probably true.
Daphne took six-year-old Susanna, along with Penelope, on a trip across the country. Along the way, she confided that she had stolen coats, sleeping bags and jewelry for their trip. She also told Susanna that she had leukemia and that she only had a few months to live. Susanna, horrified and sad, asked what would become of herself and Penelope after Daphne died. Daphne brushed off the question, telling her daughter that there was a good side to being terminal --- such as being able to charge anything on credit cards but never having to deal with the bills.
When the trio returned to New York, Daphne informed Susanna that she didn't have leukemia after all; the hospital had mixed up patient charts. This just proved to be one of many of Daphne's uncountable, manipulative falsehoods. Meanwhile, Daphne seduces a married neighbor, Colin, but takes the girls on a vacation with Colin's best friend, Hugh.
Although Susanna yearns to be closer to her father, Nat, he is emotionally distant with his daughters, suggesting they call him by his first name. Nat suffers the early stages of multiple sclerosis but manages to take the girls to cultural events. At one point, Susanna accompanies him to see Orson Welles films. He sternly tells his daughter not to speak until the movie has ended. As Nat watches the film, a man sits by Susanna, stroking her thigh. Afterward, when Susanna reveals to her father what happened, he simply tells her what to say next time: "Take your hands off me!" Nat considers the problem solved, but Susanna is sad that he doesn't act outraged or try to find her molester.
As Susanna grows older, her mother's erratic behavior escalates. She abuses Susanna physically and emotionally, but these episodes are followed by interludes of irresistible magnetic charm. Yet Susanna grows wary and then warier as her mother seduces her boyfriend, abuses drugs and constantly lies. Susanna's own behavior, particularly with men, begins to mirror her mother's. If "as the twig is bent, so grows the tree" is a true saying, then how can Susanna ever learn to find honest love and live an honorable life?
HER LAST DEATH is in many ways an unsettling read, partly because of the matter-of-fact tone in which Sonnenberg relates her mother's manipulation and abuses. It is also a page-turner, as the reader hopes for resolution, healing and resurrection for the author, who leaves us with a satisfying, not overly neat, conclusion.
--- Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon [...]