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Coming Clean: A Memoir Hardcover – July 23, 2013
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, July 2013: Most children who grow up in dysfunctional families don’t realize at first they’re any different from anybody else—but Kimberly Rae Miller is more observant than most; from childhood, she had a growing sense that there was something wrong in her household. A brilliant guy who ended up driving a bus, Miller’s father was an extreme hoarder, and the family’s normal-from-the-outside (at least for a while) Long Island home was a mess (or treasure trove, depending on your point of view) of useless (or fascinating) papers and junk (important stuff). In Coming Clean, Miller, an actor and writer, chronicles her weird childhood and adolescence, but what’s really unusual about this buoyant, winning memoir is that for all that the author describes the familial dysfunction in heartbreaking, copious detail—and for all that she sometimes lost patience with her parents—she never stops showing that she loves them. As readers we come to love them, too—partly because, whatever else, they managed to raise such a smart and witty and generous daughter. —Sara Nelson
From Publishers Weekly
An only child to loving parents who were such chronic hoarders that they had to flee their over-stuffed Long Island house rather than face cleaning it, actress and journalist Miller delineates her harrowing childhood and secretive home life. Miller's bus driver father, a brilliant, however emotionally remote man, collected papers and broken electronics, while Miller's government-employed mother was a twin whose untreated childhood scoliosis left her shrunken and with a low sense of self-worth, although fiercely devoted to her daughter. Home life spelled a weird combination of obsession and inertia—collected stuff and unused purchases were piled so high that little room was left for the family even to eat or sleep or use the bathrooms; and filth and mold invited rodents As a child Miller realized her family wasn't like other people's families with tidy, presentable homes; far from it. A fire destroyed one home when she was in second grade, while the large house they moved into was soon rendered similarly uninhabitable, so that Miller never invited anyone home and had to adopt a decoy house to be dropped off at by friends. Eventually she went to college at Emerson in Boston where she kept a clean living space, as she did when she later moved to L.A. and New York City. The reader senses in this horrific story that Miller is still tiptoeing around her family's dirty secret and hardly revealing the half of it. Agent: Mollie Glick, Foundry Literary + Media. (July)
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Top customer reviews
Kimberly Rae Miller puts a very human face on the issue of hoarding. Her father has no memories of his childhood, at all. His parents were hard-core alcoholics and whatever happened to him in his youth was protectively erased by his brain. Her mother grew up unloved by neglectful parents. She suffers with an extreme spinal condition because her parent's couldn't be bothered to get her a back brace as a child. Kimberly's father starts as the catalyst for the hoarding situation. He's fond of papers, any paper, and radios. Their house quickly fills of them. Her mother is angry at the mess, but also ultimately resigned to it. She eventually becomes a compulsive shopper who adds to the hoard.
The hoard slowly takes over the family's life. Their first house burns down in a fire, spurred on by the mounds of paper, killing all the family pets. Her parents separate for a time, partly to keep CPS from discovering their true living conditions. The boiler explodes, and they have to start taking weekly showers at a local gym. Then they discover a surprise living in their attic, the reveal of which literally had me screeching at my Kindle.
This is a very well-written memoir, better than many I've read from professional writers. The author is likable and down to earth. I think some people will be confused, maybe even put off, by her forgiving nature to her parents. But I get it. My interest in hoarding actually comes from my husband's family-- both he and his mother have hoarding tendencies. Yet, I grew up in a dysfunctional environment, and I could relate to every inner struggle with her parents. I wish her the best of luck going forward and dealing with her parents as they continue to age.