Her Last Death begins as the phone rings early one morning in the Montana house where Susanna Sonnenberg lives with her husband and two young sons. Her aunt is calling to tell Susanna her mother is in a coma after a car accident. She might not live. Any daughter would rush the thousands of miles to her mother's bedside. But Susanna cannot bring herself to go. Her courageous memoir explains why. Glamorous, charismatic and a compulsive liar, Susanna's mother seduced everyone who entered her orbit. With outrageous behaviour and judgment tinged by drug use, she taught her child the art of sex and the benefits of lying. Susanna struggled to break out of this compelling world, determined, as many daughters are, not to become her mother. Sonnenberg mines tender and startling memories as she writes of her fierce resolve to forge her independence, to become a woman capable of trust and to be a good mother to her own children. Her Last Death is riveting, disarming and searingly beautiful.
I read this memoir a couple of weeks ago and have been agonizing over this review ever since. After going back and doing a quick re-read, my opinion has not changed. There are not many positive things for me to say about Her Last Death, and much as I hate talking badly of any book, I am going to give my honest opinions in as much fairness as I can here.
Susanna Sonnenberg receives a phone call letting her know her mother is dying - she must see her now if she plans to say good-bye and make her peace. However Susanna does not plan to go, and no amount of thinking, dwelling or considering is going to change her mind. From this main plot, the story goes back to detail her life growing up with a mother who lies, cheats, drinks, does drugs, manipulates and competes. Which is meant to explain or perhaps excuse her decision.
The positive thing about this novel is that it is very will written. The plots mesh together nicely and is very well paced overall.
However the negative aspects of this memoir seem to be mainly about content. The experiences she recounts of her adolescence are all very predictable and repetitive. Her mother does something to her once or twice, but yet the third time it happens still seems to come as a surprise to Susanna. Although the stories may very well be true, they come off as being embellished in order to add "shock value". If you read this thinking "what's the worst that could happen" - that's exactly what happens, which becomes tedious.
Overall this was a very well written novel, lacking in point. You don't truly believe the writer has learned anything from her horrible childhood. After my second read through it occurred to me that in writing this memoir Susanna Sonnenberg was merely trying to excuse her feeling of guilt with how she dealt with her mother. I wouldn't recommend this memoir, as their are many more valuable "bad childhood/parental relations" memoirs available.
About The Author
Susanna Sonnenberg was born in London in 1965 and grew up in New York. Her essays have appeared in Elle, O, the Oprah Magazine and Parenting, among other magazines. She lives in Montana with her husband and two sons.
Published by Simon & Schuster
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