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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

If Only You People Could Follow Directions: A Memoir

I read the title of Jessica Hendry Nelson's memoir, If Only You People Could Follow Directions and I was sold. Because I feel this way all the time.

Putting together a series of essays to tell her story, Jessica Hendry Nelson tells the tale of her mother, her brother Eric, and herself. Her addict father dies when she is young, her brother becomes an addict himself when he is only just a child, and her mother is driven to find ways to keep her children out of harm's way. Jessica finds the drive to go off to school, let her best friend go when he becomes a danger to himself, and to push herself in ways she has never been driven by others before. Ultimately, though, it's family that brings us back.

I really enjoyed the format of this book; Nelson took each relationship and explored it in depth within the confines of a chapter. It was so easy to understand her care and her frustration with those who were throwing their lives away; what I felt was so outstanding about Nelson's writing is that you can feel the fog she has placed over this history in order to protect herself from such personal pain that could be so overwhelming if she would let it. I think each of us can understand that fog, that sheen that we put over the past because if we had to go through that level of hurt again we might just not make it.

I particularly loved Nelson's essay on her grandmother and how complicated her relationship was with this matriarch. I find it so interesting how families are made and how tenuous these relationships can be; I felt Nelson really explored that in describing how much she loves her grandmother yet how frustrated she could be with her. Family is complicated, y'all. We all know that. At the end of the day it's really just about the love, isn't it?

Hard copy below:

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