by Helen Parramore
Sissy, the narrator of this haunting family drama, was eight when her father committed suicide. The family hid its shame and never talked about his death, especially to the children, who were more involved than anyone knew. As Sissy matured, she struggled with phobias, nightmares, and recurring dreams. Slowly she came to realize she had played a part in his death, but could not remember how.
Determined to discover the truth, she began an astonishing pursuit that lasted many years. Psychological counseling brought some pieces of memory to light, but she knew more was buried in inaccessible parts of her mind. She researched birth and death records. She questioned those still living who could tell her more about his death. Her mother, who knew more than anybody, was an inventive liar who shed blame like a dog shakes off water. Her mother’s sister and her mother’s oldest friend each had their own versions of the story. How much of what they say can Sissy believe? After years of piecing together fragments of this tormenting puzzle, she underwent therapy for trauma amnesia to pry out the last buried memories. A horrifying story emerged, but it brought an understanding long overdue.
This review may contain spoilers.
Skunk Stew by Helen Parramore is a memoir of her childhood and beyond, beginning in the 1930s. Not only was her family struggling to survive during the Great Depression, but Helen had to deal with an absent mother and a father with mental issues.
This book was nothing like what I expected. I anticipated a story about a family trying to survive through the Great Depression (a learning experience for me not having been through it like my grandparents). Rather, it was more about Helen piecing together the past after the instability she endured growing up. Helen’s mother was an artist and would spend large amounts of time away, while her father who couldn’t find work was suicidal. Much of what went on during Helen’s childhood is difficult for her to remember—abuse, neglect, and trauma—which eventually leads to her visiting a therapist.
To say that I was uncomfortable reading this book is an understatement. It’s written very well, but honestly, I wanted to quit multiple times because the animosity and conflict between Helen and her mother is nearly unbearable. Parts of this story are insane, while Helen consistently attempts to pull something together that doesn’t seem to be there.
With that said, It was impossible for me to not to finish this book. Knowing whether Helen’s relationship with her mother would pan out was something I had to discover. There are so many secrets. Will she get the answers she’s looking for? Can she ever get over all the tragedy?
In the end, this is a powerful story that left me contemplating forgiveness. Can you forgive someone when they don’t even ask for it? Because after all, holding on to that pain and resentment only hurts us more.
If you plan to read this book be aware that it includes suicide, sexual abuse, racial issues, and abortion.
This book is now on Scribd.
- Paperback: 226 pages
- Publisher: iUniverse (March 4, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0595476716
- ISBN-13: 978-0595476718
Thanks for reading my review! If you have thoughts or suggestions on other memoirs, please leave your comment below.