Momentum, Memoirs, and Memento Mori

The protagonist of Anna Stothard’s The Pink Hotel is the daughter of Lily. In fact, her whole persona seems designed around recreating her mother’s life, in this sad, and yet hopeful, story. The reason that she is the daughter of Lily is because she never receives her own name in the book. Not once. She narrates, she shares the names of others, but she does not have a name of her own. She is so engulfed by her mother’s overdose in the bathroom of The Pink Hotel that she spends the novel recreating the path of her mother, wearing her clothes, and often, trying on the same men.

A frustrating element of The Pink Hotel is that Lily’s daughter, a young, scared, British-born teenager is so consumed with becoming Lily, that she never assumes her own identity, starting, of course, with her name. I almost expected the novel to end with her revealing the one part of her identity that remained hidden throughout, so open is she is all other facets of her life. Though there is a positive note at the end of The Pink Hotel, Lily’s daughter, remains Lily’s daughter.

So it was then extremely interesting that I happened to follow up The Pink Hotel with another book about the loss of a family member, and rebuilding a life out of that sense of loss. The book that I chose, Her: A Memoir by Christa Parravani, is a complement to The Pink Hotel, the real-life version standing in for fiction. I read several memoirs earlier in the year, written by women, that dealt with loss and rebirth, Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala, Rebecca Dana’s Jujitsu Rabbi and the Godless Blonde, and With or Without You by Domenica Ruta. All three memoirs by women were released around the same time, and all were suitably depressing, (Perhaps Dana’s less so, but I still found it quite sad in places). The Memoir as confessional can be quite gripping, and I certainly devoured all four of these heart-to-hearts. But though the first three were cathartic, I did not acutely feel the sense of rebirth.

Perhaps it’s cheating to suggest that Her: A Memoir was most effective because it concludes with a birth symbolizing the rebirth. Yet I found that this book, in one part about the loss of her twin sister, but really, like all good memoirs, about the rebirth of the self, rose above the aforementioned memoirs, because I felt that Christa Parravani left it all on the page. I acutely felt the death of her sister, her TWIN sister, and how it seeped into every aspect of her life. There is a record of a phone conversation that takes place between Parravani and a psychic towards the end of Her: A Memoir that is just fantastic.

Her: A Memoir and The Pink Hotel keep the reader questing to find out if a sense of loss and death can ever be overcome. Though they reach contrary conclusions, both are successful in portraying to the reader how difficult it can be to reach the end of the quest and find a sort of resolution, a sense of an ending and a beginning.

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