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An Abbreviated Life: A Memoir Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 14, 2016
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“My latest favorite. . . Ariel Leve grew up on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, wanting for nothing except everything that matters to a kid: safety, security, predictability, unconditional love. Her dad lived in Southeast Asia, and her mom was needy and wildly unpredictable, and saved her charm for drunken revelers who partied loudly while Leve tried to fall asleep. . . . As an adult, she once crossed paths with a former party guest, who told a mutual acquaintance, ‘I always wondered how that little girl would survive. I thought her only choices were suicide or murder.’ To learn how Leve saved herself, you must read this distressing and inspiring book.’” (Elisabeth Egan, The Miami Herald)
“The staccato style of this searing memoir enhances the harshness and emotional power of what is a frightening story by a brave author, who resolutely describes herself as ‘a long-distance runner through the canyon of childhood’—a modest understatement. An unstinting portrayal of psychological abuse, both insightful and precisely told.” (John Irving)
“An Abbreviated Life (Harper), an explosive new memoir from acclaimed journalist Ariel Leve, chronicles Leve’s dismal childhood under the primary care of her riveting, glamourous, intellectual, and ultimately incredibly destructive mother. . . . In the company of captivating memoirists Mary Karr and Alexandra Fuller.” (Elle)
“A powerful and frequently devastating account of a childhood without boundaries and dominated by loneliness, chaos and fear. Leve’s recollections can be brutal but are made digestible by the elegant sparseness of her prose.” (The Guardian)
“Mesmerizing... A portrait of something familiar gone wildly, tragically awry.” (New York Times)
“Leve…writes in beautiful, staccato sentences and weaves her own story together masterfully.” (Evening Standard (London))
“Leve’s prose is soulful, cryptic, musing.” (Sheila Weller, New York Observer)
“Ariel Leve’s haunting memoir about life with her unpredictable mother is maddening, devastating and consuming.” (Minnesota Public Radio, "Best Books of 2016")
“An Abbreviated Life adds a harrowing chapter to the great tragi-comedy called “We Don’t Get To Choose Our Parents.” Ariel Leve’s extremely readable memoir is, at its heart, a story about surviving childhood—a trick we must all perform. Even in its raw extremes, her story is a universal one.” (Richard Ford)
“Out of a childhood that seems just about impossible to have survived, Ariel Leve has written a haunting, indelible story that becomes its own form of redemption. This is an act of bravery that strikes me not only as a literary achievement, but a human one.” (Dani Shapiro)
“Unsparing. . . . riveting and evokes with clarity the emotional turmoil of being subjected to the constant needs of a narcissistic parent.” (Jon Ronson, The Guardian)
“Leve’s powerful story of surviving her brutal childhood demonstrates that contentment can be found.” (Publishers Weekly)
“A candid rendering of pain and survival.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“Leve writes of learning to be constantly on guard, living ‘an abbreviated life,’ and how she finally found her way out. Hers is an unsentimental tale, both cautionary and heartening.” (BBC.com)
“Exquisitely written.” (Lynn Barber, The Sunday Times (London))
“Electric reading . . . brave, calm testimony.” (The Spectator)
From the Back Cover
In this extraordinary memoir, Ariel Leve takes us through the looking glass intothe life of an only child growing up under siege. The unconventional world Ariel inhabited was dominated by her mother, a gifted but unstable poet without boundaries or self-restraint. Mother and daughter lived in a penthouse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, which was the setting for raucous parties that attracted New York’s cultural and intellectual elite: Gloria Steinem, Norman Mailer, and Andy Warhol, to name a few. For all its glamour, this was a universe that was neither predictable nor safe.
With her beloved father living in Southeast Asia and the death of a nurturing caretaker, young Ariel was left to navigate an emotionally perilous landscape alone. It took four decades before she was able to make sense of the aftershocks of childhood, which eventually necessitated a voyage in secret to the other side of the world. Unflinchingly, and with ferocious candor, Leve trains her writer’s eye on the harrowing circumstances of her life with (and without) her mother, and transforms the chaos into art.In stripped down, elegant prose, Leve paints an indelible portrait of her upbringing and the long fight to tunnel her way out of the darkness. The drama of her journey proves to be as exhilarating as it is painful and, ultimately, emancipating. An Abbreviated Life heralds the arrival of a fearless new voice in the literary firmament.
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Top Customer Reviews
Children in chronically abusive situations grow up to believe their world is “normal” when in fact their adaptations, in adulthood, turn into maladaptations.
Leve learns the above by consulting Harvard neuroscientist Martin Teicher who explains that a child with chronic abuse is deprived of the good hormones to the brain and overloaded with the bad hormones resulting in “altered” (in a very bad way) brain development. The hardwiring gets changed. The abused child actually changes on a cellular level. Teicher explains to Leve with the analogy of a tree that exists in a windy climate: It becomes altered in its shape that is different than a tree that is struck by lightening (lightening being a metaphor for short-term trauma).
Her misshapen brain causes her to cut off emotions by using a “sledgehammer,” not a “scalpel,” to bludgeon her emotions. Being disaffected and despondent becomes the casualty of a child victimized by parental abuse.
Trying to change her maladaptive ways by using EMDR therapy created by Francine Shapiro (author of Getting Past Your Past), Leve tries to overcome what amounts to PTSD. She lives with her life-loving boyfriend Mario and seems to find within his gentle, caring spirit the antithesis of her own neurotic self.
The book’s title comes from this passage: “To cope, in childhood, was to be on guard at all times. Sentiment was not to be trusted. Hope would be met with disappointment. This was an operating system that allowed me to function, and it carried over into adulthood. The result was to live a life within brackets. An abbreviated life.”
Leve’s quest to conquer her maladaptive ways and to learn to embrace life and find love are succinctly expressed in this small book without self-pity or other indulgence. It is a clear-headed, trenchant narrative and analysis of a highly intelligent human being trying to repair a ship that was dashed against the rocks over and over and over again. Highly recommended.
This is a beautifully written memoir about a tough topic. It's important, though, as it underscores the reality that child abuse affects children from every socioeconomic class. Ariel suffered from physical abuse, as well as sexual abuse ( although, I don't think she actually realized that until she was much older). She particularly was scarred as an adult from the emotional and psychological abuse from her mother. The thing is, I think her father was an enabler, and too weak to confront the mother. He made his escape, moving far away to protect himself, but who was going to protect his helpless little girl? Ariel needed to think of him as her loving parent, and he was, but he knew that he child was living with an unstable person, and he should have been there for her. The person who voluntarily and lovingly was there for Ariel, throughout her childhood, was the ex lover, and friend of Ariel's father. She is an admirable figure throughout this memoir. It is definitely worth reading, and will make for very interesting discussion in book clubs.