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Coming Clean: A Memoir Kindle Edition
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"One of the best parts of my childhood had been that my mother was a dog breeder. I didn’t have siblings, but I always had puppies around toplay with. The dogs weren’t always kept in the best of conditions, but despite their matted coats and cramped cage-living arrangement, they loved us unconditionally, and they made me feel safe in an environment that often felt scary."
Despite the author continuously stating how loving her mentally ill parents were, she also gives a few passages as to how their expendable flea infested (thus anemic) money making dogs, cats and birds ALSO suffered. Just from what was stated, they
deserved more than just a few passages but at least a chapter. They also deserved more sorrow, regret and compassion by all in this family.
Those are the qualities of a superior human race?
The most disturbing, and infuriating, thing about this memoir is that it is yet one more example of the horrifically selfish actions of abuse and neglect to countless pets at the hands of "me and MY needs first, always" hoarders. The only thing more heartbreaking than the countless dogs, cats and birds that the narrator describes being allowed to die horrific deaths in the several homes this family systematically destroyed, is the flippant, sometimes amused, but mostly just off-handed way in which she mentions them. She even shares with pride the fact that her neglectful mother was intentionally breeding animals inside those walls to sell for profit. Yes. A woman who realized full well that her home was a squalid, soupy, infested cesspool made the unbelievably selfish choice to breed animals inside it.... for cash. Ms. Miller's apathy toward the unknown number of animals who died at the hands of her parents is clear almost every time she remarks about them-- from the fact that her mother kept masses of birds treated as nothing more than breeding stock, locked away in an abandoned room in their closed-off 2nd floor (imprisoned the duration of their lives inside small cages), to the comical way she describes praying "to George Burns" that the house would burn down and then feeling an "oops" moment when the house actually does burn and dozens of birds, cats, kittens, dogs and puppies burn alive inside it... to the time a neighbor complained about their dog Gretchen and her mother threw a leash on the dog, trotted her out to the car, and dumped her at the animal shelter to be their problem-- because her mother didn't feel like being judged or "embarrassed" if unwanted attention over one of their dogs brought some visitor to the door.... to the self-absorbed recollection of how happy she was that her mother was a dog breeder because, hey, even though the dogs were neglected and eaten alive by fleas and left to suffer living in crates, SHE got something out of knowing they were in the house, so what else could possibly matter? Much of the book is written from a child's and then a teen's perspective, but at no part, even at the end, does the author give a sign that she feels remorse, or even just a natural heartache, for what those tortured animals endured at the hands of her unfit parents.
I do not want to mislead the reader-- this book is in no way a graphic rendition of animal abuse. There is very, very little detail provided about the smallest and most helpless victims in this house. The many narrations of Ms. Miller's own suffering or injustices are, for the most part, continuous from start to finish in this book-- she was embarrassed here, she was disappointed there, she was mad this time, she was fed up that time-- yet she appears in every way to have inherited the "animals are objects" mindset that her parents both possessed. She spends more time detailing the steps of creating her online dating profile than she does to her pets burning alive... obvious relish is put into her description of scratching her hives she developed due to stress, yet only a quick remark about the crated dogs losing their fur (due to the filth and insect infestation that she does, of course, mention when describing how it effected her) and half a sentence about how her blonde dog's fur turned red (and even then, there is no heartbreak for the poor creature being eaten by parasites so badly his coat turns colors, but more a "it bothered me seeing MY dog's nice coat turn an ugly color" kind of vibe.
If anyone is hesitant to read this book thinking that it contains descriptions of animal abuse, be assured, what I just wrote is about as graphic as it gets. The torture of animals within the author's home is most disturbing in this book by the fact that she, even as an adult, even now, deems such atrocities hardly worth mentioning at all. "Mom was a breeder.... the dogs fared worse than us.... they lost their fur... they had bad fleas, they got on me... they lived in crates.... mom bred birds to sell to pet shops... they were in a room on the floor we never went up to... they lived in cages... we had more kittens... we had more puppies.... the house burned down and they died.... mom took the dog to the pound and dropped her off... " That is about the extent of the narrator's care or concern regarding these pets-- exactly the degree of care and concern each of her parents possessed regarding any of them. They were just objects in a house full of far more important ones.
I did feel anger for the author's fate-- to be brought into the world to suffer through no fault or decision of her own. I even, at times, felt badly for the mother and for the father as well-- these are people who are mentally ill, and in that, there is explanation for the continued difficulty to parent or see outside their own needs. But it does not excuse them. When any adult can reason enough to hide things they know are wrong (from neighbors, from teachers, from CPS workers), then they also have the mental capacity to choose to take action that is correct and right. They knew they were harming their child. The harm to her was just not a priority in the hierarchy of things in the home that weighed more importantly. And in the scale of things, the animals ranked lowest of all. Even to the author, even now.
As much as the obvious child neglect got to me, the narrator had the ability to escape, and, in fact, did-- and is now a successful writer with the ability to share what she wants, when she wants. My heart grieves for the uncounted and unknown victims of this family, who suffered in silence and died of more causes than the reader will be allowed to learn, because they are simply not the stars in this dysfunctional family's drama.
One example: The author tells a story of her father punching her in the face (age 10?) in front of one of her friends. She drops this bombshell and then does absolutely nothing with it. Never mentions whether her father apologized, or whether her mother noticed her most likely bruised face. Nor does she say whether she was ever punched or abused again.
In addition, there is very little helpful information about hoarding or how to deal with a family member who is a hoarder. At the end of the book (spoiler!) it's implied that the author's "plan" is to keep cleaning up her parents' messes forever. Oy vey. I have questions. Can medications help with this condition? How about therapy? How could her mother afford to be a professional shopper on a bus driver's salary?
Finally, I wish the author would have taken time to encourage young people who are currently living with a hoarder and can't see their way out. Her voice could have connected with them in a powerful way no outsider's ever could.
I got this as a Kindle library book, so I can't complain too much. A much better book, IMO, on a similar topic is Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle.