Idea/Concept: With good humor and Midwestern directness, the daughters of a loving, lonely woman persevere, taking care of themselves and of each other. Tragedy shapes the narrative of Marilyn's Kids, but the mood of the book -- and the lives it documents -- is feisty and hopeful. This volume collects the memories of several siblings, tracing their childhood lives across the Midwest, offering a kids' eye view of their parents' divorce, their mother's subsequent surprise pregnancy and re-marriage, and, eventually, their mother's suicide. The story then becomes one of healing, of finding strength in solace in family. By the end, it becomes clear that the composition of the book itself is a vital step in understanding their past -- and each other. The story is moving, and the book is necessary, though at times it reads more like a family keepsake than something intended for an outside audience.
Prose: Nancy Palmie and her siblings write clear, direct, often gently wry prose. Their accounts of childhood happiness (summers in Wisconsin, for example) are vivid and touching, as are their descriptions of life in a "cinderblock" apartment in a Kansas munitions town. Later incidents, such as a pair of road trips centered on adult tragedies, are piquant and funny. Occasionally, especially when covering generalities, the prose becomes vague and ungrammatical. Another round of proofreading could eliminate such confusion.
Originality: The family history told here is entirely unique, yet touches on universal themes. The book's most resonant passages explore the process of healing from tragedy and coming to understand one's place within a family over the course of a lifetime, all urgent concerns.
Execution: While the prose and material are strong, Marilyn's Kids ultimately reads like an act of reminiscence intended for an audience of those already familiar with the family at its core (or for historical societies collecting stories of Wisconsin and eastern Kansas). The authors get caught up in memories and anecdotes, many of them fascinating, at the expense of narrative. The opening chapters recount memorable incidents but don't take efforts to demonstrate why readers unfamiliar with the family should persevere with this dive into the everyday lives of strangers.
Date Submitted: November 11, 2019