Saturday, September 8, 2018

Book Review: "You've Been So Lucky Already: A Memoir" by Alethea Black

One of my favorite quotes is, "Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind." It's certainly a good philosophy to have in life, but I've also begun applying it when I read memoirs.

I don't read a lot of nonfiction, although I've definitely read more of it over the last few years, mainly memoirs of one sort or another. At times I am utterly amazed at what the individuals recounting their lives have gone through, and overwhelmed not only at their ability to face their challenges, but their generosity in sharing those struggles with the world. Some memoirs are more harrowing than others, but that doesn't mean that every person hasn't had to pull themselves up from their rock bottom.

In her new memoir, You've Been So Lucky Already, Alethea Black recounts not only the unknown-to-her reserves of strength she needed to tap into when dealing with a long struggle with a mysterious illness, but she also touches on her life leading up to that struggle, from her relationship with her father when she was younger to feeling unmoored, unmotivated, and unsure of what path her life should take following his death.

"In some ways it's a comforting thought. All your frustrations, all your joys, all the moments when everything went wrong, when it was hard to believe anything would ever feel normal again, when you actually split off from yourself and observed from a slight distance, which seemed safer, especially when your life exploded right at its midpoint, affording you a crystal-clear view of the heartbreak you caused, the love you absorbed, the deaths that unmoored you, the illness that razed your existence to a pile of terrifyingly beautiful rubble—it's comforting to feel that, somehow, you've borne them all before. And you have this shadowy memory that it was worth it, so you'll do it again. You'll do it all again and again."

This is an emotional read, but it is gorgeously written. Even when Black recounts her lowest moments, visiting specialist after specialist who cannot find anything wrong with her and do not heed her requests to be tested for parasites, experiencing unbelievable pain, fatigue, memory loss, and crushing despair, she uses words so vivid you can almost feel twinges of what she did. There is such a "you are there" feel to this memoir, which leads you to wonder how you would react if you were a friend or family member trying to help her during this period of time.

I read Black's debut story collection, I Knew You'd Be Lovely (see my review) several years ago, and it was one of the best books I read that year. Her storytelling ability, even if it is her own story, has only gotten stronger since then. This was difficult to read at times, but I kept marveling at her generosity in sharing so much of her vulnerability with us.

This is a book about the strength, humor, and intelligence it takes not only to survive one of the most physically debilitating times of your life, but the wisdom of simply surviving and thriving every day. I read this as part of Amazon's First Reads program, and the editor who selected this book said, "This is essential reading for anyone who has struggled in life, who has been ill, who has been labeled a hysteric, or who has loved someone who has sought, fruitlessly, for relief from their pain." Doesn't that apply to almost everyone in some way or another?

Amazon First Reads and Little A provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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