Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Finished reading

A Family Story.
By Julia Blackburn.
Illustrated. 313 pp. Pantheon Books. $26.

NYT Book Review

This was an odd book =- but felt compelled to finish it.
First Chapter more...
This is the story of three people. It is the story of my two parents and the three of us together, but it is also the story of the tangled fairy-tale triangle, which took shape between me and my mother and the succession of solitary men who entered our lives after my father had left.
My father Thomas Blackburn was a poet and an alcoholic who for many years was addicted to a powerful barbiturate called sodium amytal, which was first prescribed for him in 1943. When the cumulative effect of the drug combined with the alcohol made him increasingly violent and so mad he began to growl and bark like a dog, he was tried out on all sorts of substitute pills, including one which he proudly said was used to tranquillize rhinoceroses.
He had two divorces and several breakdowns, but then at the age of sixty he had a vision of the afterlife, which made him happy because he realized he was no longer afraid of dying. A year later, in the early morning of 13 August 1977, he finished writing a long letter to his brother with the words 'I am now going to lie down in a horizontal position and breathe long and deep.' He then went upstairs and died from a cerebral haemorrhage, just as he was getting into bed.
He was disastrous in so many ways, yet I never felt threatened by him. I could be frightened of the madness and the drunken rages, but I never doubted the honesty of his relationship with me and that was what really mattered.
My mother, Rosalie de Meric, was very diverent. She was a painter by profession and she rarely got drunk and didn't use prescription drugs, and she was sociable and sane and xirtatious, and I was always afraid of her. Right from the start I was her sister and her conwdante and, eventually, her sexual rival, as the boundaries between us became increasingly dangerous and unclear. The battle we fought reached a crisis in 1966 when I was eighteen, and that crisis never really passed, the scent of rage and adrenaline hanging in the air as sharp as gunpowder.
On the first day of March 1999, when she was eighty-two years old, my mother was told she had only a short time to live and she came to stay with me for what proved to be the last month of her life. Something crucial happened and the spell that had held us for so long in its grip like an icy winter was finally broken, and we were able to laugh and talk together with an ease we had never known before. 'I have never been so happy in all my life,' she said. 'How curious to be dying at the same time.'


Blogger Farmgirl Susan said...

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009 11:38:00 AM  

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