Monday, August 22, 2011

Found, by Jennifer Lauck

Jennifer Lauck comes full circle in this latest -- and self-proclaimed last -- memoir offering. Lauck's first book, "Blackbird," rightfully included on many must-read memoir lists, tells how, through a cascade of tragic childhood events, she was left to raise herself. In "Blackbird" Lauck's prose beams as she unsentimentally recounts the gruesome illness that took her adoptive mother's life, and the out-of-nowhere heart attack that killed her adoptive father. All this, and she was only ten. Left in the care of an unstable, uncaring woman, she was ultimately abandoned at a commune, where she worked while attending school.

Lauck's subsequent memoirs tell of further struggles, and how, as an adult, her life was impacted by earlier events. Lauck was separated from her brother when her adoptive parents died. As a young adult her brother commits suicide, and Lauck, then an investigative reporter, delves into her brother's story, searching for answers to the riddle of his life. She struggles in her relationships, but ultimately marries, and has two children.

"Found" is made up of small slices-of-life chapters, and speaks to Lauck's journey to address her simmering unhappiness. In first part of the book she takes us back through her complicated history -- necessary for readers new to Lauck, and nicely wrought reminders for those of us already familiar. Lauck goes on to tells us of forays into Buddhism and a niggling urge to know her birth mother. To her credit, Lauck relays the birth mother reunion part of the story unflinchingly; it's not a running-across-a-grassy-meadow coming together; it's fraught.

"Finding yourself" stories are a risky proposition. They're inherently heartfelt, but because they shine a spotlight on emotion, they can be pedantic and self-involved. Commendably, Lauck's honesty is brazen. Occasionally her passion overshadows the plot, as she casts judgment on uncaring caretakers, and describes her beliefs about a baby's biological need for his/her birth mother -- her stance, basically anti-adoption, is extreme and is sure to ruffle feathers -- but these are understandable, if minor, infractions. Mary Karr, a beloved memoirist, is so dispassionate in her stories that, at times, I feel a disconnect, held back from knowing what she went through. Not so in "Found," a magnetic chronicle of Lauck's struggle to shed her past and find her way back to herself.

Check out Jennifer Lauck's blog, Prolifically Raw, a great resource for memoir writers.

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