Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Critique (please read "Older Post, "  entitled 2 Men, first)

How do we recover from childhood trauma when we are left to our own resources as adults? Can we ever recover and become whole? These are the questions Moser asks in her memoir glibly entitled 2 MEN. The answer that finally comes to her is that one must "begin to understand" the effects of a   monstrous past in order even to hope for some recovery, whether recovery is possible or not.  

The simple, flippant, almost childlike tone of her memoir is deceptive, for there is great hurt and significance behind each word, even  Dr.Seuss' words, so aptly included. She has not yet overcome the gibberish communicated to her  by parents who were caught in their own web of insane confusion. The brief lines contain years of struggle and heartache; the tone not only of detachment but also of simplicity are attempts to disguise great pain.

She tries to fight her past by falling in love with Robert, who, in the end, uses her much as he  has used her good friend; i.e., solely for his own needs. Behind the stoicism lurks a hard, intransigent selfishness and the familiar passion that causes, in the end, only pain.  We can assume that the first kiss occurs only when Robert decides it will. He has no apparent concern that he ruins her hopes for an engagement let alone her graduate plans in Boston. Robert comes back to her as he pleases and then leaves; he gives her little hope for reliability and absolutely no promise of support. The ritual washing of hands after the funeral is the only self-cleansing he can manage.

So Moser repeats her past. She never uses her name because abused children never have a chance to develop an identity. In the second part of the memoir, she recalls places of abuse - but except for the beatings, specifics of abuse are lost to her, as they are to many traumatized children. In her memories she is an onlooker; she is not a past participant in her father's activities. And what of the good memories that are so contradictory to the bad ones? The man who taught her to read also took away her life.

In the end the truth begins to come to her: It was her father and not Robert who had taught her about love. Yes her notions about love are self-defeating and self-immolating: so how can she attain the genuine, enduring love she thinks she desires?   She will roll her hopes uphill, but they will always crash back down and crush her. Does she even know - or have the self-respect - to care?

Can we believe her  when she says she "begin{s} to understand"? If so, is understanding enough? Can anyone ever really put "Humpty Dumpty" back together again? She already has delivered her own verdict. Her hope for recovery is there, but is recovery really possible? This is the monumental question that this simply-written, almost childlike memoir explores.

Ellen Moser

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