Tag Archives: alcoholism

Moving ahead requires inventorying ugly truths from the past

Moral Inventory, by Tara Johnson. Austin Macauley. 154 pages. Trade paperback $10.95.

An intervention program named Helping Hands has, with her alcoholic mother’s connivance and permission, yanked young Elizabeth out of her downward spiraling life and provided a structure of rewards, punishments, and self-evaluation that might save her. At seventeen, she had found herself flattered by the attentions, muscles, and rebelliousness of Marcus, an unemployed predator several years too old for her. His controlling nature had become intolerable, though he had ways of making her feel important as well.

Not seeing him is part of her path to staying off drugs and making a meaningful, respectable life for herself.

Ms. Johnson’s portrait of about a half year in Elizabeth’s life is extremely vivid. It is a harrowing emotional ride in which the young woman’s intelligence is at war with her bad habits, including dangerous dependencies.

Elizabeth wavers between taking the lessons and regimen of Helping Hands to heart and merely playing the game of going along while looking for an out. Her life is on hold until she finishes the program – or runs away from it. She meets other young adults working their way through the program and in some cases assisting the director, Mrs. Stein. There is a well -constructed hierarchy of relationships and responsibilities that offers hope.

Readers will grasp the importance of such a “tough love” program, yet also understand Elizabeth’s ambivalent attitude and inconsistent behavior.

While the focus of the novel is Elizabeth’s struggles and successes within the confines of the Helping Hands structure, Ms. Johnson paints Elizabeth’s life and personality with a broader brush through flashbacks. The author clarifies the effects of Elizabeth’s father’s disappearance and her mother’s alcohol problem on Elizabeth’s early years.

Tara Johnson

The flashbacks include Elizabeth’s friendships with other girls and with temporary boyfriends. Her home environment places her in a low socio-economic class without the tools to transcend it. Though Elizabeth has a strong love for her mother, she also feels bitter about the unsought responsibility of dealing with a desperate drunk. At times, she is forced to take over the parent role. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the May 15, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the May 16 Naples, Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here and see lower half of page: Florida Weekly – Moral Inventory

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Loose ends of the Atlanta Child Murders are tied up in new novel

Blood Cries, by Michael Lister. Pulpwood Press. 266 pages. Hardcover $26.99. Trade paperback $16.99.

The tenth John Jordan Mystery has the added distinction of being volume two of “The Atlanta Years” subset. Thus it is the second installment treating John Jordan’s coming of age before he worked as a policeman, prison chaplain and reluctant private detective in panhandle Florida. Like its predecessor “Innocent Blood,” it explores in fictional mode the historical Atlanta Child Murders, for which the FBI’s records are available online. The arrest and conviction of Wayne Williams for two murders left a lot of loose ends regarding the fate of several boys murdered or missing during his reign of terror. perf5.500x8.500.indd

These loose ends connect to similar murders and/or abductions that Wayne Williams could not have done. They leave a depressed, alcoholic divinity school student, eighteen year old John Jordan, with an obsessional sense of duty to bring those children and their families justice and healing.

Following Jordan around involves readers in the life of a grieving community, with caring people striving to support one another emotionally and spiritually. Jordan has developed an uneasy relationship with the local police, most of whom find him likely to get in their way or show them up. Mr. Lister keeps readers aware of the fact that police resources are always strained and setting priorities is not something that always takes a community’s needs into account.

Lister

Lister

Jordan realizes that finding out what the missing boys in the recent streak of disappearance have in common is at the heart of the case. He discovers that almost all of the six that he is searching for live in the same corner of the city and share sadly similar family situations. He also tries to profile the abductor (possibly also a murderer) from what he has learned from his independent reading and by thinking things through carefully.

His pursuit of justice is compromised by several things. One of these is his problem with alcohol. Another is his unsettled sense of himself and his direction in life. Yet another is his lack of experience in the world. Developmentally, he feels in over his head even though he is quite intelligent and has sharp instincts.

He is driven by his worst fears about the fate of these boys, based on his knowledge of what had happened to others during the Atlanta Child Murders nightmare. He even visits Wayne Williams in prison to stare him down and pick his warped brain for clues. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 27 2016 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 28 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter, and Palm Beach / West Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Blood Cries

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A life of despair redeemed through the power of art

“I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl: a Memoir,” by Kelle Groom. Free Press. 256 pages. $23.00.

Like a lot of must-read books, “I Wore the Ocean” is a difficult book to read. Its passages of darkness and despair are almost overwhelming. Its descriptions of alcoholism, drug addiction, and emptiness are harrowing. But there is no turning away. Ms. Groom’s lyrical prose is addictive. Brilliantly lucid, richly suggestive, and ruthlessly honest, this memoir is a triumph of art and life. 

Young Kelle Groom was a person without a center. Up to a certain point in her life, she had a very loose grasp on her own reality. She could not really feel rooted, substantial. She found no way to assert herself into the world: she could barely speak. She lived in psychic pain, she faked confidence and, while yet in her early teens, lost herself to alcohol and drugs. She became easy prey to exploitative boyfriends and sexual predators. She was damaged goods, perhaps permanently lost.

Somewhere, there was a resilient core that showed itself from time to time. Her unplanned pregnancy, at nineteen, was a mixed blessing. It was a gift and a loss. Motherhood gave Kelle Groom a more powerful sense of herself. She was more anchored in the world. However, believing that she was not fit to raise a child, she allowed Tommy to be adopted by her aunt and uncle. She lived on the fringes of the life she gave. When Tommy died at fourteen months from leukemia, Ms. Groom’s despair and sense of guilt almost toppled her.

Her life as a young adult was one of marginal jobs, bad choices in men, and a running battle with alcoholism. The possibility of suicide was never far away. Over time, writing became more and more her salvation. It was her way of coming to terms with herself, of dealing with demons, of building a solid identify, of finding a productive addiction, and of gaining perspective and understanding.

Kelle Groom photo by Marion Ettinger

Kelle Groom’s process of self-making through art resulted in three collections of poetry and now this glorious memoir, based largely on journal entries written over many, many years.

A major thread in the book is Ms. Groom’s psychological and spiritual search for Tommy. Her own quest for wholeness required that she explore the possible reasons for her son’s death and the contours and texture of his brief life. With her, we examine the potential for cancer-causing environmental factors in and around Brockton, Massachusetts where Tommy lived. We witness her react to photographs of Tommy and his adoptive parents that enlarge her emotional understanding. Finally, her aunt and uncle give her some almost thirty-year old home movies that Kelle Groom has processed onto a video compact disc. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the June 29, 2011 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 30 issue of the Naples edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Kelle Groom or here: Kelle Groom pdf – 1 and here: Kelle Groom pdf – 2

Note: Since this review first appeared, Groom’s memoir has made it to Oprah’s Summer Reading List.

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