Ravaging, Harrowing, Impossibly Sad: Our author, Alice Anderson, finds herself up you-know-which creek without a paddle, watching, dumbfounded, as her husband-the-doctor, his lawyers, and the judges sail by on their luxury yachts. A night of terror at the hands of her husband, which causes her permanent physical and mental damage and almost cost her, her life fails to elicit the requisite sympathy from her mostly male opponents in the judicial system. Does she give up?
No, she sticks her hands in the muck and locates an oar, and slowly makes her way to shore.
Anderson recounts the sexual abuse she endured as a very young child and the domestic abuse (physical and mental) she suffered for years as a mother of three children married to a violent alcoholic with a severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. Astute enough to take her children and run after one incident of attempted murder, she fights the courts for years upon years, seeking full custody of her children with no unsupervised visitation rights for their father. She fears (rightly) that the good doctor will physically abuse, even kill, his own children.
The drama unfolds first on the Mississippi coastline where Hurricane Katrina has wrought a lot of damage. These heavily misogynistic southerners in the family court business look askance at Anderson’s published book of poetry, and wrongly assume that her poems are autobiographical. She’s perverse, they decide. So, she must fight to the death for every little concession. Having most of the town, the PTA, the church, the upstanding families fill the courtroom to vouch for her barely makes an impression on the judges. For years, she steadfastly plays the part of an ultra-conservative, submissive housewife, despite the fact that before her marriage she earned a graduate degree from Sarah Lawrence College, and worked as a fashion model in Paris, as well as a singer, dancer, editor and author.
Some Bright Morning gives us yet another story of heart-wrenching suffering, akin to Jeannette Walls’ wonderfully sad book, The Glass Castle, and other memoirs of adults looking back on childhood abuse. What sets this memoir apart is its simply gorgeous prose:
We make chapels of our scars. They cross our skin and soul, a topographic map of the past. Our scars are built on the delicate yet dazzling scaffolding holding our weary, ragtag hearts aloft. I have in me a scar where my childhood sits, made up of playground songs and the raised-red slap of despair, inside the slate-blue cloudless empty spot between my ribs (from the Prologue).
. . .his eyes the color of a South Mississippi sky right before a storm, deep blue bleeding into sulky gray.
The author is certainly a complicated individual, and she presents herself as such—very talented in multiple arenas, forgiving to a fault of adults who have sinned against her. What does not need any glossing is her deep and abiding love for her children, the “sweet three,” she calls them, and her indomitable maternal instinct to protect them. We feel her love, and her continued dismay at the failure of her efforts to shield them from their father. Everything in her life revolves around two questions: How will things look to the court? Will such and such decision wind up losing her custody?
Years into this stalemate, she falls in love with the son of famous author, Norman Mailer, and they plan to marry. He backs out at the last moment because he realizes he cannot live his life in the shadow of the courts. She, however, must continue to live her life in the shadow of the courts in Mississippi, never able (until now?) to be the person she wants to be.
Anderson’s memoir is an ode to survival, perseverance, and maternal love.
But this is not a story about finding myself, but of finding my way back—back from the edge of a place where who I was, was nearly erased. There’s a pure white page that sits at the seat of my soul, and typed in black raised letters are the things that make me: poet, mama, woman, fighter. I walk through fire after fire, the flames threatening to burn that page at the center of my soul, to turn me to ash. This is how I fought the flames, this is how, even when I was ankle-deep in the ashes of personal tragedy, I rose.
Anderson has won several literary awards, nominations for Pushcart prizes, a grant from Stephen King and published two collections of poetry, Human Nature and The Watermark.
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