Monday, October 3, 2011

Moonlight on Linoleum: A Daughter's Memoir by Terry Helwig

3Moonlight on Linoleum: A Daughter's MemoirMoonlight on Linoleum: A Daughter's Memoir by Terry Helwig

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads: In the tradition of The Glass Castle and The Liar’s Club comes the captivating memoir of a young girl forced by her mother’s instability to care for her siblings.

Terry Helwig and her five sisters were raised by their charismatic, troubled, and very young mother, Carola, who struggled with loneliness and infidelity. Because of their stepfather’s roving job in the oil fields, the family moved frequently from town to town in the American West. The girls were often separated and left behind with relatives, never knowing what their unstable mother would do next. Yet, even in the face of adversity, Terry found beauty in the small moments: resting in the boughs of her favorite oak tree, savoring the freedom she found on her grandparents’ farm, and gleefully discovering the joys of dating and dancing.

Despite the hardships and the limitations of age, Terry rose above her circumstances to become an excellent and faithful caregiver to her five siblings. She finds power in bonding with her sisters, and they manage to thrive in the face of constant upheaval and uncertainty. A moving and motivating portrait of love and perseverance, Moonlight on Linoleum is a poignant tribute to the bonds of family and the tenacity of love.

My take: Helwig writes a compelling memoir detailing her memories of her childhood. Helwig provides as much objectivity as a writer could give as a first person writing about her own childhood. Admirably, she does not paint herself as a victim nor does she write any of the characters as two dimensional. The author's mother was chemically dependent and unfaithful to the end. She neglected her children and household responsibilities. On the other hand, she was tender and loving at times and clearly gave the best she had to give.

At the same time, Helwig describes other meaningful adults from her childhood; her biological father, her stepfather who did not differentiate between his biological children and adopted children, and her grandparents of both fathers. Also included is an affair and another husband. Again, Helwig successfully separates herself enough to give a fair characterization of the people that impacted and shaped her. Even her biological father's second wife, Cathy, who was ill-prepared to be a mother to the stepchildren, had both cruel and admirable moments.

The writing is beautiful. The chapters are cohesive and stick to a theme while describing each stage of life. Ultimately, the reader comes away feeling empathy for all of the players in this book. And uplifted.

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