In this beautifully composed, achingly sad memoir, U.S. poet laureate Trethewey (
Monument) addresses the 1985 murder of her mother, Gwendolyn, at age 40, at the hands of her ex-husband, the author’s former stepfather. Over the course of the narrative, Trethewey, 19 at the time of the killing, confronts her wrenching past, which she avoided for decades, as she tries to undo the “willed amnesia buried deep in me like a root.” Born in 1966 in Mississippi, she recalls her childhood in the racist South, the daughter of an African-American mother and a white Canadian father who separated when she was a girl. Mother and daughter moved to Atlanta in 1972, and it’s there that the nightmare begins, after Gwendolyn meets Joel, a Vietnam vet she marries and with whom she soon has a son named Joey. Trethewey chillingly ramps up the tension as Joel is revealed to be a calculating, controlling psychopath who psychologically torments the author and beats her mother. Gwendolyn eventually leaves Joel, but he continues to stalk her, and Trethewey includes ominous documents (including an urgent letter Gwendolyn wrote to police) that reveal the terrifying circumstances of her life before the murder, for which Joel was sent to prison. This profound story of the horrors of domestic abuse and a daughter’s eternal love for her mother will linger long after the book’s last page is turned. (July)
"Part coming-of-age, part true crime story, Memorial Drive is the memoir of Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, a heartbreaking tale of domestic abuse and the story of Trethewey’s mother who is brutally murdered by her ex-stepfather. She returns to the years she once buried, narrating tragedy and unearthing pain along the way."
Stunning . . . As Trethewey revisits her past, she again turns on a light in the darkest of corners, piecing together the memories of her childhood and her mother’s death at the hands of her former stepfather. Her pain still feels primal, but the poet confronts shadows to reveal, as she writes, “the story I tell myself to survive.
"For Natasha Trethewey, the end is very much the beginning, for both her startling new memoir and, as we learn across its pages, the second iteration of herself. . . . Propelled by the Pulitzer Prize-winning U.S. poet laureate’s remarkable command of language, it’s a story that burrows deep in your emotional center. . . . The work enraptures like a thriller, unraveling as it races against the inevitable."
This is a dedication and memorial to a Black woman’s survival through racist and misogynist territory to lovingly raise a family."
"[Trethewey's] celebrated linguistic talent is evident. . . . What’s most remarkable here is Trethewey’s storytelling abilities as she forges a gripping narrative of a woman coming to terms with her trauma."
Natasha Trethewey has composed a riveting memoir that reads like a detective story about her mother’s murder by a malevolent ex-husband. It reads with all the poise and clarity of Trethewey’s unforgettable poetry—heartrending without a trace of pathos, wise and smart at once, unforgettable. The short section her mother penned as she was trying to escape the marriage moved me to tears. I read the book in one gulp and expect to reread it more than once. A must-read classic.
"A work of exquisitely distilled anguish and elegiac drama . . . Through finely honed, evermore harrowing memories, dreams, visions, and musings, Trethewey maps the inexorable path to her mother’s murder. . . . Trethewey writes, ‘To survive trauma, one must be able to tell a story about it.’ And tell her tragic story she does in this lyrical, courageous, and resounding remembrance."
Booklist (starred review)
"Nothing [Trethewey] has written drills down into her past, and her family’s, as powerfully as
Memorial Drive. It is a controlled burn of chaos and intellection; it is a memoir that will really lay you out.... This is a book with a slow, steady build. This is restraint in service to release....Even though you intuit what is coming, the moment you learn of Gwendolyn’s death is as stunning as the moment when Anna Magnani is shot in the street in Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City."
The New York Times Book Review
In Memorial Drive, [Trethewey] explores the loss and lingering grief that has shaped so much of her work. Trethewey’s heartbreakingly beautiful memoir honors her mother, Gwendolyn, while also indicting a culture that fails to protect abuse victims as they try to retrieve their lives from the clutches of their abusers."
"This heartbreaking but ultimately triumphant memoir explores the long-buried past Trethewey fought to forget and the cruel, powerful forces of domestic abuse and racism."
Memorial Drive, Natasha Trethewey has transformed unimaginable tragedy into a work of sublimity. There’s sorrow and heartbreak, yes, but also a beautiful portrait of a mother and her daughter’s enduring love. Trethewey writes elegantly, trenchantly, intimately as well about the fraught history of the south and what it means live at the intersection of America’s struggle between blackness and whiteness. And what, in our troubled republic, is a subject more evergreen?"
"[Trethewey's] memoir tells the tragic, moving story of her journey out of the pit of grief and into her role as one of America’s most celebrated artists."
Former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Natasha Trethewey contemplates the traumas of her youth in her aching new memoir. . . . Fixating on her mother’s past as well as her own, Trethewey constructs a moving reflection on racism, abuse and trauma.“
"Trethewey, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and former US Poet Laureate, uses her consummate literary skills to craft this heart-rending account . . . A tragic tale, told with clarity and shattering insight."
"Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey explores the trauma of her mother’s murder in a memoir poet Mary Karr calls 'heartrending without a trace of pathos.' Trethewey’s mother was shot to death in 1985 in Atlanta by the author’s abusive stepfather. Trethewey, a former U.S. poet laureate, sketches a portrait of her mother’s life in the South as she considers the enduring influence of her love as well as the vicious effects of domestic violence, racism and sudden loss."
"A former U.S. poet laureate, Natasha Trethewey brings her mastery of language to this tough, lyrical account of a daughter entering the adult world while dealing with the brutal murder of her mother."
"A precise, piercing memoir that explores unimaginable loss, grief, rage, and resilience. . . . [A] visceral, haunting book. . . . Trethewey is unflinching in her depiction of the horrors of domestic abuse—and in the power of the love between a mother and child."
"Trethewey brilliantly explores how her upbringing and her mother’s murder shaped her into the artist she is today."
"A wrenching prose account of loss. . . . Relying on memory, case documents, & transcripts of recorded phone conversations . . . Trethewey offers a gutting depiction of domestic violence. This book is not an easy read, but it is an illuminating one."
"Natasha Trethewey’s forthcoming memoir Memorial Drive just bowled me over. Is it the best true crime memoir I’ve read? It’s certainly in my upper echelon now."
"[An] astonishing, gripping memoir. . . .Memorial Drive is the story of how a mind can be made by love and rupture in equal measure, and how—growing up—poetry, composing herself, became the way for Trethewey to restore the former by building a bridge over the latter. . . . This is work of immense dignity and sorrow, a psalm to a past forever gone, and a vivid glimpse of a writer tangling with her demons in plain sight in hopes others like her might feel less alone with theirs."
Haunting, powerful, and painfully stunning,
Memorial Drive is one of the best memoirs I've read in a long time. A brilliant storyteller, Trethewey writes the unimaginable truth with a clear-eyed courage that proves, once again, that she's one of the nation's best writers.”
"Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey turns her gift for storytelling to a memoir in this slim, elegant account of her mother’s murder and all that transpired after it, including how the author transformed the pain of her loss and a life steeped in racism into words that transcend hatred and violence to uplift others."
Alternately beautiful and devastating.
Alternately beautiful and devastating.
Exploring personal trauma, memory, and closure, Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winner Trethewey returns to the site of her mother's murder. The daughter of an African American mother and white Canadian father, Trethewey grew up in civil rights-era Mississippi and Georgia. After her parents' divorce, her mother married an unstable Vietnam veteran who, over time, became psychologically and physically abusive. After ten years, her mother left with Tretheway and her younger brother in tow but continued to live in fear of her ex-husband. Working with victims' rights groups, the state's attorney general, and local police, her mother achieved renewed independence and strength. But that did not stop Tretheway's former stepfather from murdering her mother in June 1985. Through spare prose and vivid imagery, the author presents a narrative of a trauma survivor's need to remember a past that, for 30 years, lapsed into the mind's shadows.
VERDICT A moving, heartbreaking memoir about a traumatic event and the path to healing. —Leah Huey, Dekalb P.L., IL
Reprising years that she tried to forget, a daughter unearths pain and trauma.
Former U.S. Poet Laureate Trethewey, winner of a Pulitzer Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship, and many other awards, begins her graceful, moving memoir with her mother’s murder in 1985. Her mother was 41; Trethewey, 19. In an effort to discover “the hidden, covered over, nearly erased,” the author returned to the scene of the crime and her own buried memories. “I need now,” she writes, “to make sense of our history, to understand the tragic course upon which my mother’s life was set and the way my own life has been shaped by that legacy.” Trethewey spent her early childhood in Mississippi, where she felt “protected, insulated from racial intimidation and violence.” Her black mother, Gwendolyn Turnbough, was a Head Start administrator; her white father was rarely home, either working or pursuing a graduate degree in New Orleans. By the time 6-year-old Trethewey and her mother moved to Atlanta, the couple had divorced. The move, writes the author, “ended the world of my happy early childhood,” and soon her comforting sense of “the two-ness” between mother and daughter was broken when Turnbough’s new boyfriend, Joel, moved in. When her mother was at work, he found ways to torment Trethewey. “Always,” she reveals, “there was some small thing he’d accuse me of, some transgression he invented in order to punish me.” He beat her mother, and Trethewey could hear her pleading at night; her face would be swollen and bruised in the morning. Trethewey was in high school when her mother finally divorced Joel, and at last “everything felt normal.” But in February 1984, he tried to kill Turnbough. He was arrested and imprisoned, but after his release, he threatened her again, and this time succeeded.
Delicate prose distinguishes a narrative of tragedy and grief.