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At age nineteen, Natasha Trethewey had her world turned upside down when her former stepfather shot and killed her mother. Grieving and still new to adulthood, she confronted the twin pulls of life and death in the aftermath of unimaginable trauma and now explores the way this experience lastingly shaped the artist she became. Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Natasha Trethewey e At age nineteen, Natasha Trethewey had her world turned upside down when her former stepfather shot and killed her mother. Grieving and still new to adulthood, she confronted the twin pulls of life and death in the aftermath of unimaginable trauma and now explores the way this experience lastingly shaped the artist she became. Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Natasha Trethewey explores this profound experience of pain, loss, and grief as an entry point into understanding the tragic course of her mother’s life and the way her own life has been shaped by a legacy of fierce love and resilience. Moving through her mother’s history in the deeply segregated South and through her own girlhood as a “child of miscegenation” in Mississippi, Trethewey plumbs her sense of dislocation and displacement in the lead-up to the harrowing crime that took place on Memorial Drive in Atlanta in 1985.


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At age nineteen, Natasha Trethewey had her world turned upside down when her former stepfather shot and killed her mother. Grieving and still new to adulthood, she confronted the twin pulls of life and death in the aftermath of unimaginable trauma and now explores the way this experience lastingly shaped the artist she became. Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Natasha Trethewey e At age nineteen, Natasha Trethewey had her world turned upside down when her former stepfather shot and killed her mother. Grieving and still new to adulthood, she confronted the twin pulls of life and death in the aftermath of unimaginable trauma and now explores the way this experience lastingly shaped the artist she became. Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Natasha Trethewey explores this profound experience of pain, loss, and grief as an entry point into understanding the tragic course of her mother’s life and the way her own life has been shaped by a legacy of fierce love and resilience. Moving through her mother’s history in the deeply segregated South and through her own girlhood as a “child of miscegenation” in Mississippi, Trethewey plumbs her sense of dislocation and displacement in the lead-up to the harrowing crime that took place on Memorial Drive in Atlanta in 1985.

30 review for Memorial Drive: A Daughter's Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    "You are in the fifth grade . . . At home you catch your mother alone, sitting on the bed, her left temple dark and swollen. Standing in front of her, eye level, you shift your weight from one leg to the other, your head down. 'Mommy,' you say quietly, so as to not be overheard. 'Do you know how, when you love someone and you know they are hurting, it hurts you too?'" -- page 103 Author Natasha Trethewey is probably best recognized as a 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry winner and also as the U.S. Po "You are in the fifth grade . . . At home you catch your mother alone, sitting on the bed, her left temple dark and swollen. Standing in front of her, eye level, you shift your weight from one leg to the other, your head down. 'Mommy,' you say quietly, so as to not be overheard. 'Do you know how, when you love someone and you know they are hurting, it hurts you too?'" -- page 103 Author Natasha Trethewey is probably best recognized as a 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry winner and also as the U.S. Poet Laureate from 2012 to 2014. Her latest work, though, is a million miles away from her usual stock-in-trade - Memorial Drive is part biography / memoir and part true crime story. Trethewey is the offspring of an interracial marriage that originated in the deep South, notably at a time just prior to the landmark Loving vs. Virginia (1967) decision. Although she had a happy early childhood - there is a noticeable upbeat tone when describing her maternal family in Mississippi - her parents divorced in the early 70's. She and her mother Gwendolyn moved to suburban Atlanta, and Gwendolyn soon married Joel. Right from the start of this new union Joel is, frankly, a scumbag - he's depicted as a shifty, suspicious, abusive and controlling man-child. Gwendolyn unfairly suffers years of physical violence and mental cruelty, but seems to make a clean break after ten years in the relationship. Then Joel, that sorry excuse for an adult who is desperate to have the last word or action, forces his way into Gwendolyn's new apartment and cold-bloodedly shoots her in the head. It was heartbreaking. It was raw. It was anger-inducing. It may now be thirty-five years after this horrific crime but Trethewey is understandably still dealing with grief and loss. (Or, as author James Ellroy - who, as a child, lost his own mother in an unsolved murder - quipped, "Closure is bull****") I appreciate her boldness and candor with sharing this very personal part of her life with an audience.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    Natasha Trethewey has twice been appointed poet laureate of the United States. Her beautiful words, her turn of a phrase, her ability to reach inside the reader and herself by turning thoughts into language in Memorial Drive: A Daughter's Memoir, testify that this was a well-deserved appointment. Ms. Trethewey takes us back to her childhood, growing up as a mixed-race child of an African-American mother and a white Canadian father. She brings forth memories of her relationship with each parent, b Natasha Trethewey has twice been appointed poet laureate of the United States. Her beautiful words, her turn of a phrase, her ability to reach inside the reader and herself by turning thoughts into language in Memorial Drive: A Daughter's Memoir, testify that this was a well-deserved appointment. Ms. Trethewey takes us back to her childhood, growing up as a mixed-race child of an African-American mother and a white Canadian father. She brings forth memories of her relationship with each parent, but most especially of her mother, as her parents divorced when she was small. The author writes about racial situations that occurred in her life, and her touch on these topics is deft, meaningful, an underlying but not overwhelming focus of her story. She tells with pride and love of her mother throughout the book, and although we know ahead of time that her mother was killed, shot point-blank in the head by her stepfather, it's still a shock to read her description. Her mother did the right things, reported her abuse to the police, kept detailed records and recorded phone interviews of and with her abuser, but he was still able, in a quick moment, to end her life. The author tells of her stepfather's brief times in mental health facilities, yet her mother's recorded phone conversations with him pointed to a severely unstable and dangerous person who needed extensive help that he didn't receive. I can't help but wonder how things would have turned out if he had received that help. This book is written beautifully and poetically. As I read each chapter, I kept getting the feeling that Ms. Tretheway was still trying to make sense of what happened and how often situations could have played out differently. So many times at the end of the chapter, I felt a wistfulness, and wondering, a "perhaps," in her trying to understand it all. This is a poignant, touching book that I recommend. However, be aware of the descriptions of domestic abuse depicted within. Thanks to NetGalley and Harper Collins Publishers/Ecco for an ARC in exchange for my honest review. 4 stars

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    [4+] The strong bond between mother and daughter is the core of this searing memoir. We know from the first pages that Trethewey's mother is murdered. The suspense building up to that terrible event runs through the pages. Along the way, Tretheway poetically reconstructs moments of her girlhood and family life, carrying the reader along so that it is impossible not to feel her love and grief. (I listened to the audiobook, beautifully read by the author) [4+] The strong bond between mother and daughter is the core of this searing memoir. We know from the first pages that Trethewey's mother is murdered. The suspense building up to that terrible event runs through the pages. Along the way, Tretheway poetically reconstructs moments of her girlhood and family life, carrying the reader along so that it is impossible not to feel her love and grief. (I listened to the audiobook, beautifully read by the author)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    In her riveting memoir, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey examines the interplay of grief and memory as she attempted to come to terms with her mother’s brutal murder thirty years ago. Natasha was born in Mississippi in 1966 to an African-American mother and a white Canadian father when miscegenation was still illegal. Although she spent her early years in the warmth of her mother’s loving extended family, both Natasha and her parents were constantly subjected to the Gulfport white c In her riveting memoir, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey examines the interplay of grief and memory as she attempted to come to terms with her mother’s brutal murder thirty years ago. Natasha was born in Mississippi in 1966 to an African-American mother and a white Canadian father when miscegenation was still illegal. Although she spent her early years in the warmth of her mother’s loving extended family, both Natasha and her parents were constantly subjected to the Gulfport white community's disdain and racism. Natasha’s parents divorced when she was six. She moved with her mother to Atlanta, where her Mother worked and studied to become a social worker. She also met and married Joel, an African- American Vietnam veteran. Joel became physically abusive, and the abuse gradually spiraled out of control. In her memoir, Natasha shares her recollections of Joel’s toxic behavior and her mother’s attempts to get help, leave and divorce Joel, followed by his relentless stalking. Natasha is 19, and her mother is 40 when Joel shoots her in her apartment's parking lot. Twenty years later, Natasha obtains the police files on the case. She includes the transcriptions of her stepfather’s final threatening phone calls to her mother in the memoir. These revelations cause her to relive and reexamine the trauma anew. Memorial Drive is beautifully written. I listened to the author read the book on audio. It was a moving experience.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    Some thirty years after her mother’s death at the hands of her brutal stepfather, Natasha Trethewey is documenting the long, arduous and painful process of reclaiming her memories of her life with her mother, memories she purposely had left dormant for years as a form of self protection, it seems. Here she presents her life with her mother in a style to be expected from such a skilled poet. This is not the usual memoir as such or the story of her mother; rather it is an exegesis of their relation Some thirty years after her mother’s death at the hands of her brutal stepfather, Natasha Trethewey is documenting the long, arduous and painful process of reclaiming her memories of her life with her mother, memories she purposely had left dormant for years as a form of self protection, it seems. Here she presents her life with her mother in a style to be expected from such a skilled poet. This is not the usual memoir as such or the story of her mother; rather it is an exegesis of their relationship, her mother’s marriages, the results of her murder and the tale of the formation of a writer from childhood. That childhood began in Mississippi at a time when her parents’ marriage was literally a crime, her father being a white Canadian and her mother a black woman. But it was apparently not a crime within her family of extended relatives on her mother’s side. Over the years, without Natasha’s understanding, her parents became estranged, separated and divorced. But both were supportive parents in her memory. Then mother and daughter moved to Atlanta setting the stage for triumphs and tragedy and a course of events that took the author time and distance to unravel, to find her place, to find her mother. One of the interesting facets of this book for me is Trethewey’s use of literary terms or features to discuss aspects of her life. Those most used are metaphor and imagery. These often intersect with dreams and emotions of all kinds. I definitely recommend this memoir. A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Brina

    Catching up on reviews after finishing a three week stint as a zoom proctor, yet another term to add to the vernacular during these times. Natasha Trethewey is one of my favorite poets and one of the most gifted and respected poets in the United States today, having been appointed poet laureate twice. Her words are luscious and combine traditional poetry with history and primary source documents, so the reader never knows what to expect with her eclectic style. Trethewey is the product of a mixe Catching up on reviews after finishing a three week stint as a zoom proctor, yet another term to add to the vernacular during these times. Natasha Trethewey is one of my favorite poets and one of the most gifted and respected poets in the United States today, having been appointed poet laureate twice. Her words are luscious and combine traditional poetry with history and primary source documents, so the reader never knows what to expect with her eclectic style. Trethewey is the product of a mixed marriage at a time when it was illegal for her to exist in her home state of Mississippi; yet, she prevailed, and even that was a struggle. Trethewey has turned to writing about the past so that she could push aside the most traumatic event in her own life: her mother’s murder at the hands of her step father. She had referred to her fractured life a few times during her other writing but never explored it in depth. When I found out that Trethewey had found the courage to write about her mother’s murder in a new hyped up memoir, I knew that I had to read it, even if the subject was raw and out of my comfort zone. I have read everything else that Natasha Trethewey has written; I owe it to her to read about her pain and suffering as well. Natasha Trethewey grew up surrounded by a loving extended family in rural Mississippi. Her grandmother and aunts did well for themselves, building a church and owning plots of land so that the family could remain united. Trethewey’s parents met as literature students at college during the era of freedom riders. Her father came from the north where interracial marriage was not yet common but no longer illegal. In Mississippi it was, so the couple traveled north to wed. Natasha was born in Mississippi when her father was away at work, simplifying her race for legal purposes even though her skin and hair both fell in the middle of the color spectrum. Even though both parents attempted to make their marriage work for her sake, it was obvious that the couple had married out of shared ideological beliefs rather than love. Natasha’s one happy memory of that time was a car trip to Mexico where the family did not have to hide their racial identity, even being able to use a hotel pool. By the time she was four years old, her parents had separated, and Natasha moved with her mother to Atlanta so that she could attend graduate school there. In hindsight, they should have remained with her mother’s kin in Mississippi. Natasha’s mother was quick to remarry, but the man she chose was unstable and jealous of the fact that she had a higher station in life than he did. In his eyes, the man was supposed to be the bread winner, yet he did not have a higher education and could barely hold down a job. The couple wed and had a son together, Natasha’s half-brother Joey. Big Joel detested Natasha’s presence in his life, reading her private diary and preventing her from socializing with friends and engaging in activities. It was obvious from her teachers that she was destined to be a writer, enjoying everything from biographies to Shakespeare and everything in between from an early age. Teachers who knew of her family situation, which included much domestic abuse, encouraged her to write and write some more, her happiest memories occurring on her summer vacations spent back in Mississippi. The one person who did not think that writing amounted to anything was Big Joel who grew more and more unstable with each passing year. He associated writing with Natasha’s father, a literature professor, and thought that writing in a diary was a girl’s passing fancy, not an income. Yet in Atlanta during the 1970s and early 1980s, it was not so easy for Natasha’s mother to leave her marriage. It would take years and building up the courage to do so, and even then it would be too late. Natasha Trethewey is indeed a gifted poet. Readers of this memoir are treated to prose that includes some poetic instances. Other than the descriptions of the sun creating sparkles in her childhood home in Mississippi, I found this memoir to only be a little above average at best. Perhaps, it is because I have read all of Trethewey’s poetry so I know of her family background, being the product of an interracial marriage, and living with the baggage that came with it. Having briefly touched on her mother’s murder in her other writing, I knew what was coming. The writing is raw and dark, and it must have been difficult for her to grasp with the lowest point in her life, an event that fractured her life as before and after and one that she had not relived until she began to gather information and thoughts to write this book. Trethewey desired to do justice to her mother’s life, and her descriptions indeed show a strong woman who attempted to provide for her two children amid the worst of life’s circumstances. Trethewey also reveals domestic abuse, a social issue that still remains hush hush to most people even though shelters and safe houses exist for battered women. For this reason alone, I thought it courageous of her to finally address her mother’s life in her writing, also drawing attention to this societal issue that should be touched upon more. Having read her other books, however, I have been desensitized to this particular instance of domestic abuse turned murder, as gruesome and painful it was for Trethewey to relive. Memorial Drive has been billed as a top memoir of 2020 and it should be because the writing is excellent. Trethewey does justice to her mother’s life, reliving happy memories of her childhood as well. People who are not poetry connoisseurs are able to be exposed to Trethewey’s writing in a capacity where they would otherwise not think to read her work. I have read her Pulitzer winning Native Guard as well as Belloq’s Ophelia, all paying homage to racial tensions that have existed in the south since before the Civil War. Her genre-breaking poetry has earned Trethewey accolades and her place as a top poet of her era. In my eyes, perhaps she should stick to poetry. As tough as it was for her to pen this memoir, I feel that her poetry is that much better and an homage to her mother in poetic verse would have been that much more powerful. Kudos to Trethewey to stepping outside of her comfort zone and writing in a genre that is not her preferred one in order to explore her life’s darkest moments. I know it was a step outside of my own comfort zone to read it. 4 stars

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kasa Cotugno

    As she says in this, her memorial to her mother, Natasha Trethwey observes "Three decades is a long time to get to know the contours of loss." Her mother, murdered by an abusive stepfather in 1985, had accomplished much in her 40 years, but was unable to unburden herself of a second marriage that never should have been. Augmented with transcripts and pages of evidence, Trethwey attempts to face her grief at this loss she sustained at the age of 19. Now, older than her mother ever was able to be, As she says in this, her memorial to her mother, Natasha Trethwey observes "Three decades is a long time to get to know the contours of loss." Her mother, murdered by an abusive stepfather in 1985, had accomplished much in her 40 years, but was unable to unburden herself of a second marriage that never should have been. Augmented with transcripts and pages of evidence, Trethwey attempts to face her grief at this loss she sustained at the age of 19. Now, older than her mother ever was able to be, she addresses it, even more effectively due to her power as a poet. In addition to the tragedy of losing her life at a particularly young age, Gwen was denied the pride of enjoying the brilliant success of her award winning, Poet Laureate daughter. Today I was privileged to see her in a Zoom interview courtesy of Politics and Prose. It was highly emotional for her, and made me appreciate her accomplishment even more.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Dave Schaafsma

    “What matters is the transformative power of metaphor and the stories we tell ourselves about the arc and meaning of our lives.” Pulitzer-Prize winning poet Natasha Tretheway, former U.S Poet Laureate, is also well known for the fact that her mother was killed by her second husband when Tretheway was nineteen years old. I have read a lot of her poetry, though no whole collection, but am correcting that error now. Monument is one book dedicated to her mother, but that terrible event weaves its way “What matters is the transformative power of metaphor and the stories we tell ourselves about the arc and meaning of our lives.” Pulitzer-Prize winning poet Natasha Tretheway, former U.S Poet Laureate, is also well known for the fact that her mother was killed by her second husband when Tretheway was nineteen years old. I have read a lot of her poetry, though no whole collection, but am correcting that error now. Monument is one book dedicated to her mother, but that terrible event weaves its way through a lot of her work, I am aware. Of the time she was notified of the murder, "that was the moment when I both felt that I would become a poet and then immediately afterward felt that I would not. I turned to poetry to make sense of what had happened.” Born on Confederate Memorial Day to a black mother and white father (poet Eric Tretheway), which was illegal in Mississippi at the time Tretheway’’s work has always been based on her life growing up biracial in Mississippi and her research on and experience of racism, especially in the American South where she grew up. Though I knew what this story was about long before I read it, I was reluctant to read it, knowing it would have brutal elements of domestic abuse and violence in it, but I finally decided to read it anyway because I knew her poetry, and ultimately, I knew it would be elegant and thoughtful in plumbing her pain for herself and others, and it surely was. It’s not till decades after the murder that Tretheway got her hands on the case files and this opened up every wound she ever had about the event, I am certain. She shares with us her mother’s journal entries detailing abuse, and one last agonizing phone call transcript of a conversation between her mother and her second husband. Maybe ultimately it's a mother-daughter story, an anguished love story. I heard the author read it, as she also tells us that this book took a long time for her to write, accomplished in painful chunks, as long as she could endure it, but of it, finally, she says: “In the narrative of my life, which is the look backward rather than forward into the unknown and unstoried future, I emerged from the pool as from a baptismal font—changed, reborn—as if I had been shown what would be my calling even then. This is how the past fits into the narrative of our lives, gives meaning and purpose. Even my mother’s death is redeemed in the story of my calling, made meaningful rather than merely senseless. It is the story I tell myself to survive.” An article on Tretheway: https://magazine.northwestern.edu/fea...

  9. 4 out of 5

    Traci at The Stacks

    This book is incredible. An incredibly well crafted memoir. A story that is devastating. The writer is superb. There were parts that took my breath away. Wrecked me. This is a must read story of the layers of trauma of domestic violence on family and survival. Wow.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Joshunda Sanders

    Content warning: Intimate Partner Violence, Maternal Death This harrowing & beautiful memoir is also painful to read, particularly if you have experienced the loss of a parent, of a mother, in a way that is fundamentally avoidable. Trethewey recounts mostly her memories of her mother Gwen while she still physically lived, with an abusive husband, Joel, whose abuse was recorded and noted by police, documented by Gwen and still, Joel waited for the right moment to slip past police who were supposed Content warning: Intimate Partner Violence, Maternal Death This harrowing & beautiful memoir is also painful to read, particularly if you have experienced the loss of a parent, of a mother, in a way that is fundamentally avoidable. Trethewey recounts mostly her memories of her mother Gwen while she still physically lived, with an abusive husband, Joel, whose abuse was recorded and noted by police, documented by Gwen and still, Joel waited for the right moment to slip past police who were supposed to be guarding her and fatally shoot her as he promised he would. There is a feeling, in the book, that this grief is not fresh; it is a wound that has been carried over thirty years and it will remain for the rest of Trethewey's life. That she allows the reader to watch the marriage unravel, her mother fight to protect herself and her family; the way that, by happenstance, she encounters someone who happens to help her save the remnants of the court case before they will be expunged because 20 years had passed by that point -- it is all deftly composed. I believe we can turn whatever tragedy happens to us into something beautiful to behold. In Trethewey's case, here, in this book, that something beautiful is an important part of her life's work.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    This was brutal and it was beautiful. It made me think of No Visible Scars (which if you have not read, you should immediately) about that utter banality and commonness of domestic partner murder. The fact that so many men kill their wives or girlfriends does nothing to diminish the fact that each murder is a tragedy. Toward the end of this book, Trethewey publishes the recordings of the last conversations her mom had with her ex and killer and those conversations should be required reading for This was brutal and it was beautiful. It made me think of No Visible Scars (which if you have not read, you should immediately) about that utter banality and commonness of domestic partner murder. The fact that so many men kill their wives or girlfriends does nothing to diminish the fact that each murder is a tragedy. Toward the end of this book, Trethewey publishes the recordings of the last conversations her mom had with her ex and killer and those conversations should be required reading for any women who needs to be warned what manipulation and control looks like. Just a haunting story, beautifully told

  12. 4 out of 5

    Marialyce

    Not being a great memoir reader, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of this particular book. Many times, I feel that the writers of memoirs often embellish their memories and do try for the ultimate shock value in their stories. They often seem to miss the point that readers know these are memories and oftentimes are not as reliable as authors think they are. However, in Memorial Drive, Ms Trethewey has created a believably understandable journey that she took down a road that was filled w Not being a great memoir reader, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of this particular book. Many times, I feel that the writers of memoirs often embellish their memories and do try for the ultimate shock value in their stories. They often seem to miss the point that readers know these are memories and oftentimes are not as reliable as authors think they are. However, in Memorial Drive, Ms Trethewey has created a believably understandable journey that she took down a road that was filled with anguish, the memory of a beloved mother, and the trials of growing up a child of a mixed race couple in the deep South. Natasha's struggles with her birth father who, for lack of a better term, abandoned them to a stepfather who was abusive in his approach to her. He caused sorrow, fear, and anguish, and was constantly a figure plagued by mental illness. The unhappiness and hardship she endured was offset by her mother's love. When, at age nineteen, her stepfather murdered her mother, Natasha's world fell apart knowing instinctively that this tragedy was almost destined to happen. Natasha was able to climb out of the depths of her heartbreak and become a Pulitzer Prize winning poet. She recognizes that her ability to create poetry is shaped by the twists and turns her life took. Wonderfully written, this book is recommended to those who love an authentic memoir that moves the reader so well into the life of its author.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Trethewey grew up in 1960s Mississippi with a Black mother and a white Canadian father, at a time when interracial marriage remained illegal in parts of the South. After her parents’ divorce, she and her mother, Gwen, moved to Georgia to start a new life, but her stepfather Joel was physically and psychologically abusive. Gwen’s murder opens and closes the book. Trethewey only returned to that Atlanta apartment on Memorial Drive after 30 years had passed. The blend of the objective (official tes Trethewey grew up in 1960s Mississippi with a Black mother and a white Canadian father, at a time when interracial marriage remained illegal in parts of the South. After her parents’ divorce, she and her mother, Gwen, moved to Georgia to start a new life, but her stepfather Joel was physically and psychologically abusive. Gwen’s murder opens and closes the book. Trethewey only returned to that Atlanta apartment on Memorial Drive after 30 years had passed. The blend of the objective (official testimonies and transcripts) and the subjective (interpreting photographs, and rendering dream sequences in poetic language) makes this a striking memoir, as delicate as it is painful. I recommend it highly to readers of Elizabeth Alexander and Dani Shapiro. See my full review at Shiny New Books.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Susan Rivers

    Trethewey is a gifted writer, and this deeply personal story unfolds in beautiful prose and with gut-wrenching vividness. And yet, when I came to the end of the slim memoir, I had more questions than when I'd begun reading it. Firstly, why is there no explanation of how or why the author's parents' marriage ended? This event was life-changing for the author, no less than for her mother, Gwen (for whom it precipitated her death, considering who she married next). There's no mention of strained ra Trethewey is a gifted writer, and this deeply personal story unfolds in beautiful prose and with gut-wrenching vividness. And yet, when I came to the end of the slim memoir, I had more questions than when I'd begun reading it. Firstly, why is there no explanation of how or why the author's parents' marriage ended? This event was life-changing for the author, no less than for her mother, Gwen (for whom it precipitated her death, considering who she married next). There's no mention of strained racial relations between her Mississippi-born African-American mother and her white Canadian father, quite the opposite, with her father living within the matriarchal kinship community in Gulfport when the author was young -- there is only a suggestion of growing distance based on their academic and professional lives. I longed to know what the actual cause of that split was, considering the disastrous consequences it had for mother and daughter as they commenced new lives in Atlanta. Secondly, how could Trethewey's mother NOT have known, or certainly suspected, that it was dangerous to leave her daughter in Big Joe's care while she was working, every day, for years? The author states that she intentionally didn't tell her mother, but that begs the question of why an elementary school-child should be responsible for ending her own abuse. Gwendolyn Grimmette had a MSW degree and was a supervisor in a Social Services agency in a large metropolitan area, so one assumes she would have had an informed perspective on this. No? Also, I didn't quite know how to respond to the lengthy transcript of the phone calls made between Gwen and Joe after he got out of prison, when he was threatening her and Natasha and even his own young child, Joe Jr. It certainly demonstrates the thought processes of a violent psychopath, but I was uncomfortable with what it was demonstrating about the author's mother: that she kept engaging with him, rationalizing with him, giving him the attention he was craving. I hoped that the author would summarize the transcript with her own interpretation of the relationship between her mother and her murderer, but this was not provided. (Nor was a clear explanation of the relationship's genesis, which we are left to guess at -- Big Joe claims that he left a wife and son to marry her, but Gwen states in her handwritten notes that she never loved him. Was Joe a rebound relationship, then? A man she was trapped into marrying because of a pregnancy and because of how much he sacrificed to be with her? Again, I wanted to understand why she left her first husband and the father of her daughter in order to attach herself to a second man who was so fatally flawed.) Ultimately, the beautiful woman smiling out from the cover of Memorial Drive remains enigmatic. For most readers, that may be enough.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jan Rice

    In this memoir, the poet Natasha Trethewey tells the story of her life in light of the 1985 murder of her mother by her stepfather. The murder takes place on Memorial Drive in metro Atlanta, around the corner from where I happened to work between 2001 and 2012, so the locale is a familiar one to me. Although the book centers around domestic abuse, the author sets it in the context of racism, for, as she says, the scene is close to Stone Mountain with its iconic carvings of Confederate generals. In this memoir, the poet Natasha Trethewey tells the story of her life in light of the 1985 murder of her mother by her stepfather. The murder takes place on Memorial Drive in metro Atlanta, around the corner from where I happened to work between 2001 and 2012, so the locale is a familiar one to me. Although the book centers around domestic abuse, the author sets it in the context of racism, for, as she says, the scene is close to Stone Mountain with its iconic carvings of Confederate generals. Yet, the two themes, her mother's tragic murder and racism, don't intertwine; there is no overt effort on the author's part to lay the domestic abuse at the feet of racism. In fact, another historical ill to which the sad and traumatic events might hark back is the Vietnam War, in which the stepfather served and which may have served to deform his character, is left unexplored. The memoir is beautifully and evocatively done, and in fact I listened to the audiobook, poetically narrated by the author herself.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Alicia (PrettyBrownEyeReader)

    Natasha Trethewey gives an extraordinary look into domestic violence in this memoir. She gives the view point of herself as a child and teenager trying to navigate the mine field her abusive stepfather laid out. She also gives the view point of the victim of her mother and the abuser through court proceedings and evidence. Trethewey’s poetic style shines though in phrasing and descriptions of places, people and events. In one chapter, she skillfully shifts the narration to second person and gives Natasha Trethewey gives an extraordinary look into domestic violence in this memoir. She gives the view point of herself as a child and teenager trying to navigate the mine field her abusive stepfather laid out. She also gives the view point of the victim of her mother and the abuser through court proceedings and evidence. Trethewey’s poetic style shines though in phrasing and descriptions of places, people and events. In one chapter, she skillfully shifts the narration to second person and gives a powerful explanation of why at the end of the chapter, displaying her writing genius. Those who are admirers of memoirs will appreciate this raw and emotional memoir. I was given the opportunity to review an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lyn Key

    This harrowing, haunting account of spousal abuse and murder moves quickly. The transcripts of the recorded phone conversations between the author's mother and her violent, unstable, and jealous ex are chilling. The legal system couldn't protect her adequately. I liked the author's grit and candor. It was a painful book to write. This harrowing, haunting account of spousal abuse and murder moves quickly. The transcripts of the recorded phone conversations between the author's mother and her violent, unstable, and jealous ex are chilling. The legal system couldn't protect her adequately. I liked the author's grit and candor. It was a painful book to write.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Katherine Addison

    I've tried to start this review 3 times and each time come up empty-handed. So. This is a book by Natasha Trethewey, a former US poet laureate. It is centered on her mother's murder. One strand is talking about family history and about who Gwendolyn Turnbough was. One strand is about domestic abuse and how Trethewey's stepfather went from faintly creepy to abuser to murderer. And one strand is about Trethewey, as an adult, trying to come to grips with a chunk of her life she has tried strenuously I've tried to start this review 3 times and each time come up empty-handed. So. This is a book by Natasha Trethewey, a former US poet laureate. It is centered on her mother's murder. One strand is talking about family history and about who Gwendolyn Turnbough was. One strand is about domestic abuse and how Trethewey's stepfather went from faintly creepy to abuser to murderer. And one strand is about Trethewey, as an adult, trying to come to grips with a chunk of her life she has tried strenuously to forget but which she cannot shed. And, I think, trying to figure out how her mother ended up there, on that day, how she came to be murdered. Trethewey's stepfather is a perfect example of why asking why don't women leave abusive partners? is asking the wrong question. Because it's not that she didn't leave. She did. It's that he wouldn't let her go, that to him killing her was (a) a reasonable option and (b) preferable to acknowledging in any way that she did not belong to him. The most harrowing part of the book is the seemingly endless transcription of a telephone call in which he shows himself incapable of recognizing, never mind respecting, that his ex-wife has a subject position of her own, that she exists outside his desires. Their conversation is a death spiral, going over and over the same ground, and ending finally in murder. This book is full of regret and grief. It is beautifully and lucidly written. It is unsparing.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Claudia Putnam

    I had a chance to speak with Trethewey briefly at a reception when she was beginning to think about this book. I’m so glad she went ahead with what is a painful and dark tale. But any tale well told brings light. I listened to the audio version and loved having her voice narrate this memoir. It must have been wrenching—to write it and then read it aloud. Trethewey, whose other narrative nonfiction I’ve found insightful but perhaps too careful, almost scholarly in its self-consciousness, nails he I had a chance to speak with Trethewey briefly at a reception when she was beginning to think about this book. I’m so glad she went ahead with what is a painful and dark tale. But any tale well told brings light. I listened to the audio version and loved having her voice narrate this memoir. It must have been wrenching—to write it and then read it aloud. Trethewey, whose other narrative nonfiction I’ve found insightful but perhaps too careful, almost scholarly in its self-consciousness, nails her stance here. Domestic abuse is a mystery, and while we don’t come close to solving it, we learn a lot about the child’s experience growing up in this environment. And the responsibility the over-parentified child feels for not having been able to save her mother. It’s still hard to see why her mother put up with this, and I think that’s part of the point. That domestic abuse can happen even to the people you’d least expect to find themselves in this situation. The self possession in the mother’s letter (to the court? I think so) summarizing her view and experience of the relationship is heart-breaking. This is not a submissive personality. Trethewey, poet that she is, simply presents the facts as she has been able to remember and uncover them. I wished for a little more meta-reflection on her own part. Why, does she suppose, her mother did endure this for so long? She doesn’t seem to have low self-esteem. She doesn’t seem desperate for love. She doesn’t seem to need to define herself as a married woman. This is a hard question, and it’s probably different for every woman in an abusive situation. Perhaps it cannot be answered in this case, but I would have liked to have eavesdropped on Trethewey’s grappling with it. To be fair, it’s what everyone wants to know about abuse. It may be that Trethewey wanted to avoid the question for that reason. Why is the pressure to answer the whys always on the victim? The abuser committed the crimes, and that’s really all anyone needs to know. This man feels entitled to his version of their relationship and feels it’s okay to extinguish a human life if he can’t have everything on his terms. The motivations of the abuser are far less interesting, because they seem really to be the same in most cases. Entitlement, shame. The transcripts of the phone conversations between the mother and her ex are eye-opening, but also frustrating. Why does she keep trying to change him? Why does she continue to engage? The only thing you can do with a person like this is walk away. Perhaps, not even that would have saved her in this case. It’s sick that this man was let out of jail. You don’t get life in prison for assault and battery, unfortunately, even when you’ve made it clear that your intent was to kill. I also wondered where the biological father was in all this. This is a book about mystery and questions. Our desire to form narrative, and its ultimate impossibility.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Christine (Queen of Books)

    Thank you to Ecco Press and NetGalley for a free e-arc of this title for review. Natasha Trethewey was 19 when her stepfather murdered her mother. That was in 1985. She writes, in Memorial Drive, of carrying that pain since. Of remembering -- and of jettisoning, "out of a kind of necessity, not knowing there'd be parts (she)'d want desperately to have again." A Pulitzer-Prize winning poet, Trethewey's writing is visceral. The first half is a slow build, preparing the reader for what is to come. Th Thank you to Ecco Press and NetGalley for a free e-arc of this title for review. Natasha Trethewey was 19 when her stepfather murdered her mother. That was in 1985. She writes, in Memorial Drive, of carrying that pain since. Of remembering -- and of jettisoning, "out of a kind of necessity, not knowing there'd be parts (she)'d want desperately to have again." A Pulitzer-Prize winning poet, Trethewey's writing is visceral. The first half is a slow build, preparing the reader for what is to come. This is a story that will alternately make your blood run cold, and make it boil. As, perhaps, it should. Content warning: Domestic abuse (emotional and physical), racism, grief, threat of suicide, murder (shooting)

  21. 5 out of 5

    Carly Thompson

    Short memoir about the author's relationship with her mother, who was tragically murdered by her second husband when the author was 19. Some of the writing was lovely but I wasn't in the right mood for the book. I would have liked to read more about the author's relationship with other family members and her life after her mother's murder. Short memoir about the author's relationship with her mother, who was tragically murdered by her second husband when the author was 19. Some of the writing was lovely but I wasn't in the right mood for the book. I would have liked to read more about the author's relationship with other family members and her life after her mother's murder.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    If you watched or listened to any of the Judge Amy Coney Barrett hearings, you were treated to GOP man after man congratulate the judge on being able to do laundry while being a judge. Something, strangely that Neil Gorsuch or Brett Kavanaugh had to answer. Both the questions, and Coney-Barrett’s answers, were a massive display of 1950s thinking at best. You would be excused for thinking that Coney-Barrett’s suitability for the position rested solely on her ability to hit the right buttons on th If you watched or listened to any of the Judge Amy Coney Barrett hearings, you were treated to GOP man after man congratulate the judge on being able to do laundry while being a judge. Something, strangely that Neil Gorsuch or Brett Kavanaugh had to answer. Both the questions, and Coney-Barrett’s answers, were a massive display of 1950s thinking at best. You would be excused for thinking that Coney-Barrett’s suitability for the position rested solely on her ability to hit the right buttons on the washer and to fold clothes. What does this have to do with a gut wrenching book like Memorial Drive? Because those 1950s attitude about women and about race are still very much running around in 2020. Trethewey’s mother was murdered by her husband in part because of these attitudes. It is impossible to read this book and not think about that as well as works such as No Visible Bruises. Or about the increase in spousal/partner abuse because of the pandemic. Trethewey’s memoir must have been painful to write – not only because she had to remember, had to confront those memories of that time – of the abuse by her stepfather – but because she also reads the case transcripts. This includes her mother’s narrative, written shortly before her death, as well as the phone calls that her mother recorded, phone calls with her abusive husband. In part, the book is not so much coming to term with what happened, but a mediation on everything it is, about what grief is. There is humanness, a rawness, a realness in this memoir. It is about grief but it is about how things carry on with us, the weight we carry. It is a visceral indictment of how culture views women, in particular black women, and this is something that Trethewey’s mother’s own words give voice too – the letter, the letter she wrote is a rebuttal, a call out, a slap to all those, including those GOP men who asked about laundry, about how women are treated. Trethewey’s mother notes that when she entered the shelter, people considered her more capable because she had a degree, she had a job. And there is always, the questions that the relationship raises -why the marriage, why the secrecy, why, why. And these questions the author has as well. And wonders, looking at the possible answers to these questions, if the expectation and standards to which we hold women and the stereotypes that all women, but Black women in particular are subjected to , dictate some of Trethewey’s mother’s choices or restricted her choices. Those questions about laundry. Those questions about motherhood. The fact that Trethewey had access to the information from her mother’s crime scene is a fluke, a rare event that occurred after a strange meeting during dinner. The materials, and the fact that they would have otherwise been destroyed, are so important. Trethewey’s book may have come from her personal desire to reconnect, explore her past and the change that one traumatic event causes, but it provides as well, a blue print and indictment of how we view women. If the men asking about laundry were more concerned with actual violence against women, the Supreme Court would be better for it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Schulman

    This book makes it possible for the reader to imagine facing wounds that cannot heal. Highly recommended.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Christie Person

    This is an excellent book, detailing the painful death of the author's mother at the hands of her stepfather. I found myself wanting to save her even though I already knew the end result. This story was beautifully told and will hopefully bring to light the importance of providing help to those experiencing domestic violence. This is an excellent book, detailing the painful death of the author's mother at the hands of her stepfather. I found myself wanting to save her even though I already knew the end result. This story was beautifully told and will hopefully bring to light the importance of providing help to those experiencing domestic violence.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ed

    This harrowing, haunting account of spousal abuse and murder moves quickly. The transcripts of the recorded phone conversations between the author's mother and her violent, unstable, and jealous ex are chilling. The legal system couldn't protect her adequately. I liked the author's grit and candor, but I'm sure it had to be a painful book to write. This harrowing, haunting account of spousal abuse and murder moves quickly. The transcripts of the recorded phone conversations between the author's mother and her violent, unstable, and jealous ex are chilling. The legal system couldn't protect her adequately. I liked the author's grit and candor, but I'm sure it had to be a painful book to write.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rod Brown

    I feel bad for Natasha Trethewey and her family for the terrible murder that stole away her mother much too early in her life, but I never fully connected with this book. I knew I was in trouble when the first sentence kicked off a dream sequence. It's one of several throughout the book, and I just could not overcome my knee-jerk negative reaction against that literary device, my biggest pet peeve as a reader. The book is about half the author describing the circumstances of her mother's murder ( I feel bad for Natasha Trethewey and her family for the terrible murder that stole away her mother much too early in her life, but I never fully connected with this book. I knew I was in trouble when the first sentence kicked off a dream sequence. It's one of several throughout the book, and I just could not overcome my knee-jerk negative reaction against that literary device, my biggest pet peeve as a reader. The book is about half the author describing the circumstances of her mother's murder (including extended transcripts of phone conversations between the mother and the murderer) and half processing her emotions regarding that loss (including an extended sequence of a visit to a psychic). Either the balance was off or the book was too short, because I found myself wanting to know more about her mother and how the events effected her mother's other child, Joey Grimmette. It seems weird that he disappears from the book when the murder occurs. I know the book is about the author's journey, but this omission points to the focus as perhaps being too narrow. I don't regret reading the book, but I don't think I'd recommend it to others.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Diane Yannick

    Beautifully crafted memoir by a two-time poet laureate. More than three decades after her mother’s death at the hands of her stepfather, the author tells her story. She claims her story for herself and allows us to peek in. Many have commented that they thought she was holding things back. Well, I certainly hope so. She has no obligation to the reader; it is her story to tell however she wants. She said that she had to unspool these events bit by bit. They had been simmering in her head since sh Beautifully crafted memoir by a two-time poet laureate. More than three decades after her mother’s death at the hands of her stepfather, the author tells her story. She claims her story for herself and allows us to peek in. Many have commented that they thought she was holding things back. Well, I certainly hope so. She has no obligation to the reader; it is her story to tell however she wants. She said that she had to unspool these events bit by bit. They had been simmering in her head since she was 19, so finally finding the words was painful. For the reader, the sense of impending doom (even though we knew the outcome)makes it a tough read. Joel’s treatment of Natasha was insidious. He methodically chipped away at her self esteem and her dreams for herself. She prolonged her abuse by choosing not to tell her mother what was going on.. The transcripts of some of her mom and Joel’s final conversations were heartbreaking. His stint in prison sure didn’t change his mental state. (Does it ever?) When you’re hell-bent on killing, I guess you find a way. ‘What matters is the transformative power of metaphor and the stories we tell ourselves about the arc and meaning of our lives.”

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    5 Stars If I could give lovely memoir more than 5 Stars I would!!! It's not only beautifully written and heartfelt, it also is a story that needs to be told. SUMMARY Natasha Trethewey recalls her mother, Gwendolyn's, life and death from Natasha's POV as Gwendolyn's daughter, it is both a fascinating and tragic story. Natasha's parents, Eric and Gwendolyn met in college and fell in love. Since they lived in the South, this was 1966, Eric was white and Gwendolyn was African American, they were u 5 Stars If I could give lovely memoir more than 5 Stars I would!!! It's not only beautifully written and heartfelt, it also is a story that needs to be told. SUMMARY Natasha Trethewey recalls her mother, Gwendolyn's, life and death from Natasha's POV as Gwendolyn's daughter, it is both a fascinating and tragic story. Natasha's parents, Eric and Gwendolyn met in college and fell in love. Since they lived in the South, this was 1966, Eric was white and Gwendolyn was African American, they were unable to marry in their home state. They actually had to drive to Ohio to be married. Although some people may not have approved of the union, Natasha began her life in Gulfport, MS surrounded by a very close and loving extended family. She was the center of their universe. Honestly, it sounded idyllic. Her father always told her she needed to become a writer because she had a story to tell. Unfortunately, her parents grew apart when her father moved to New Orleans to earn a masters degree. After the divorce, Natasha and her mother set off for Atlanta so her mother could earn one as well. Atlanta started off as a big, fun adventure. Her mother found a part time job at a bar so she could work on her degree during the day. Tasha loved school and was a fantastic student. But then her mother met Joel or Big Joe as Tasha called him. She married him and gave Tasha a baby brother. Big Joe was a Big Mistake. Although life looked pretty great from the outside for the family of four, things declined quickly, finally culminating in her mother's murder. The book follows Tasha through the aftermath as she tries to come to terms with this life altering loss. WHAT I LOVED I literally loved every page of this book and I am sad it's over. Natasha Trethewey is a truly gifted writer. Of course I googled her upon finishing the book and found out she has won an insane number of writing awards including a Pulitzer Prize (!!!) and was twice named a US Poet Laureate!!! Well, that explains why the writing is so perfect! She really paints a picture with words. I felt like I was there with her, watching her father, as the sole white man, playing baseball in a rec league in Gulfport (btw- you can Google a very sweet picture of her parents holding baby Tasha wearing her fathers baseball hat). I can vividly picture her running back and forth between her aunt and her grandmother's houses. I can see her spending a quite afternoon reading in the library while her mother studied. She made it all so real without getting bogged down in over inflated detail. The descriptions of her mother made me feel like Gwendolyn was an old friend, someone who I need to meet for happy hour so we could catch up. Gwendolyn is portrayed as a strong woman who was fiercely intelligent and ahead of her time BUT above all else, a mother who adored her children. Although I didn't know her at all, I'm convinced the world would be a better place if Gwendolyn was still in it. The snippets of pop culture were the icing on the cake!!! OMG!!! The description of the belted green jumpsuit her mother wore the day they drove from Mississippi to Atlanta was fabulous!!! Spot on early 1970's!!! Her mother actually worked at a bar in The Underground. So iconic!! And the music which accompanied her memories wove the story together creating unforgettable images, particularly the one of Gwendolyn dancing to The Bird by Morris Day and The Time. All this rich detail works together to create a beautiful tribute to a beloved mother. This story is so relevant right now, in 2020, because it deals with some of America's biggest issues today. Racial inequality is a major theme in the book. Natasha is privy to seeing the difference in the way each of her parents are treated due to their color. When she's out only with her father, they are treated with respect, but when she's with her mother, they are often dismissed or even treated rudely. At times the family's safety was even threatened. Obviously domestic violence is a huge part of the story. My heart breaks for elementary school aged Natasha as she realizes abuse is actually taking place inside her own home. WHAT I DIDN'T LOVE Well, obviously, I hate that Gwendolyn was killed, leaving Natasha and Joey without a mother. But that is an unchangeable fact. As far as the book content is concerned, I was left hanging a little about what happened to Joey. I would have liked to hear more about him. He lost both his mother and father that day, I was wondering who raised him etc. I also would have liked to hear more about Natasha's dad Eric. He came off as such a great father and an interesting man. Maybe his story; how a man from Nova Scotia ended up in Mississippi defying the norms of the times, would make another book topic for Natasha Trethewey???? I'd buy it. OVERALL Although I'm gushing like an oil well, I am not doing this book justice!!! I'm at a loss! I cannot say enough.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Maureen Grigsby

    This memoir is the story of a daughter who lovingly tells the story of her life which was shattered when her mother was murdered when the writer was nineteen years old. This book is exquisitely written, as she describes the joys in their life, and the darkness that eventually covers their world. I would highly recommend this gorgeously written book.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Gabriella

    ***TW: domestic violence, abuse, murder There is no review I can give that does justice to this memoir, which is another confirmation of my belief that our best modern writers are Black Mississippians. Memorial Drive is a gutting, visionary memoir that experiments with several forms to depict how Natasha Trethewey experienced her mother's life and death. Her mother, Gwendolyn Ann Turnbough, is presented to readers in a robust fashion in this memoir, which functions as a multi-media compilation. T ***TW: domestic violence, abuse, murder There is no review I can give that does justice to this memoir, which is another confirmation of my belief that our best modern writers are Black Mississippians. Memorial Drive is a gutting, visionary memoir that experiments with several forms to depict how Natasha Trethewey experienced her mother's life and death. Her mother, Gwendolyn Ann Turnbough, is presented to readers in a robust fashion in this memoir, which functions as a multi-media compilation. To combat trauma and time's compounding challenge to her memory, Trethewey gathers dreams, diaries, taped conversations, family photos, and other records to fill in her mother's story. I cannot imagine the deep mining this must have took, both emotionally and organizationally. For such a heartbreaking book to be so readable is a testament to Trethewey's craft and care with her mother's memory. Fans of Trethewey's poetry will appreciate Memorial Drive's thematic explorations: of "geography as fate", of place/person as myth, of guilt and purpose and how they intersect at grief. There is also a continued prompt for people who are learning and practicing abolition (in this context, I mean people working on the continuum to a world without the prison industrial complex.) When Trethewey describes the brief period of time in which her stepfather was incarcerated as a safe haven for her and her mother, I entirely believe her, and am trying to understand how a world without prisons could amplify this safety from abuse, not diminish it. I understand that many people experiencing abuse would find safe havens in a world that provides quality mental health services or housing to all who need them, and a world that ends the nuclear family as a system where children belong to their parents, and wives are possessions of their husbands "until death do them part." However, I don't think I'll ever forget Trethewey's stunning, in-medias-res portrayal of how her mother could (temporarily) rekindle her relationships and thrive while her eventual murderer was in jail for one of his earlier attempts at taking her life. I cannot think of another safe haven her family could have had in that moment, and it feels like an imperative to find one, lest we ignore the very real need for distance/isolation from abusers that Trethewey articulates in this book. I hope to learn about (and help build) the kind of world that would support survivors who need their abusers to have no access to them, while not subjecting said abusers to forms of state-sanctioned violence in prisons. Moving on from my political quandaries, I would highly recommend this memoir if you are mentally in a space to handle a book covering domestic violence, murder, and abuse.

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