Her: A Memoir by Christa Parravani is NOT a book I can easily recommend. Nor is it a book that I would have picked up if it wasn’t assigned this month’s book group pick. After the first few pages I knew it was going to be dark and depressing. Sisters Christa and Cara were identical twins and inseparable growing up and as adults. After Cara survives a horrendous attack and rape while walking her dog, she falls into a downward spiral of drug use and destruction. This leads to an overdose/suicide at twenty-eight which then leaves Christa alone for the first time dealing with guilt, depression and loss of identity. Cheery, right? Would it find a spot on my blog? Could I honestly recommend it to people? What the heck would I talk about in my book group that wasn’t just questions off of a reader’s guide? Well, thanks to my book group and some very insightful readers, I appreciated this book a bit more.
3. Readability. This memoir reads so well. The smooth transitions in the jumps between between past and present make it less jarring to the reader. The usage of Cara’s journal entries helps get into Cara’s mind as she struggled to survive. She was given a voice in a story that mostly dealt with Christa’s experience of losing a twin. Everyone in the group loved the flow of the story.
2. Writing. I guess this goes hand in hand with readability but it’s more than that. Christa is a beautiful writer and strung together words and sentences that gave pause. Several members of the book group had flagged pages and pointed out sentences that resonated and will stick with me.
“It seems to me that the difficult thing in life is to find what stirs and move toward it. Mom put us first but also put us in the way of whatever moved her and, so, avoided the anxiety of the unknown, the fear of failure, the pain of opening up her heart and feeling the loses. Her selflessness was also her selfishness.”
UGH! I never thought (before those lines) a person could be both selfish and selfless at the same time, especially when it comes to their children. But I see myself in that statement and it slayed me.
3. Empathy and insight. I read most books looking to meet new people, as characters, and in this case, a real person. See their point of view. Experience their lives. Transport with them in time. Laugh and cry with them. It doesn’t matter if I like them or have redeeming qualities. I couldn’t disagree more with this comment on GR about likeability in a character:
“There is an art in memoir of making oneself likeable while discussing the gritty, not pretty details of one’s life and how one treated the people in one’s lives badly and unfairly. Neither twin is the slightest bit likeable.”
There are several more 1 and 2 star reviews like that calling Christa and her sister Cara “self-indulgent”, “shallow”, “whiney”, “self-absorbed” and on and on. One comment even went as far to say that this is a book of what not to do when tragedy strikes. And to be fair, at times, I did feel like shaking them both to say “snap out of it”. But who am I to say that? I have never dealt with the tragedy of losing someone as close or survived an attack or rape. I can’t say for certain that if I did, I wouldn’t end up popping pills and struggle to go on. And I’m so thankful that I haven’t had to deal with that. A woman in my book group explained to me that her and her husband have been together for over 50 years, having met in high school. She said if she lost him she wouldn’t know what to do because their lives are so entwined with one another through the good and bad. Yeah, I got it.
“Cara had been my torch in our dark house. I couldn’t have survived it without her. And where was she now? It seemed impossible to be in a world without her. All of our stories and hurts were now mine alone. I’d grown so used to stories being shared that without Cara it was as if neither of our lives had ever happened. With her death, my history had been erased.”
Thanks to my book group for giving me some insight and appreciation for what this book could offer. We all agreed unanimously that this wasn’t a book we’d recommend to anyone in particular. It won’t show up at a book exchange or wind up as a gift for a friend or family member. It’s not a book we would shout, “Oh I LOVED that book, you must read it!!” But for someone dealing with loss or struggling to find their way, this book could help them feel less alone. There is a happy ending in all of it. Christa is able to pay homage to her best friend and sister as well as survive.