Book Reviews

 

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CLARION REVIEW
AUTOBIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR

Not Really Gone

Blaire Sharpe
AuthorHouse (May 8, 2015)
Softcover $19.95 (271pp)
978-1-5049-0523-7

This compelling memoir provides a friendly comfort, especially for those with a loved one who is slowly dying.

Sharpe’s formative years were difficult; her parents divorced due to their infidelity and alcoholism, and she and her siblings were put in the custody of her grandparents. Sharpe’s grandmother, Eleanor Lavinia Phillips, quit her job to take on raising the three little ones. This initial self-sacrifice set the tone for their family going forward. Phillips became their family’s rock, according to Sharpe. But, as anyone who has raised three kids knows, the storms were not over. Sharpe and her siblings had rocky teen and young adult years, and just as that storm was clearing, Phillips’s health began to fail.

The book begins with childhood reflections and then travels, step by step, toward grown-up pain and loss. Sharpe shares her own battle with addiction and her grandmother’s role in helping her heal. The most poignant reflections, and the ones that compelled her to write the book, are her memories of watching Phillips’s health deteriorate. But just as striking as her grief is her pride in being able to care for her grandmother during her last years—and even in that she’s thankful to her grandmother for her steadfast support.

The book has a nostalgic tone, at times even elegiac. Occasionally, Sharpe’s words are filled with regret, but mostly they’re just open, honest memories—the good and the bad mixed together and told crisply without sentimentality.

As a writer, Sharpe’s attention to detail and narrative flow are engaging. She deals well with emotional territory, using apt emotional descriptions (such as “anticipatory grief—the grief you experience when you know a loss is coming”) rather than overwrought emotive prose. The chapter names are all gerunds that point to the theme of the chapter but also to the rhythms that characterize life: “Surviving,” “Believing,” “Accepting,” “Honoring,” and more.

Sharpe’s personal story will appeal most to others who have watched as someone they loved died gradually, slowly reliving memories of love and struggle as the end approached. Her voice provides a friendly comfort, even in the midst of aching memories.

While Sharpe’s aim is to honor her grandmother, what she shares most compellingly is herself. MELISSA WUSKE (September 10, 2015)

Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The author of this book provided free copies of the book and paid a small fee to have his/her book reviewed by a professional reviewer. Foreword Reviews and Clarion Review make no guarantee that the author will receive a positive review. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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Not Really Gone
Blaire Sharpe
AuthorHouse, 262 pages, (paperback) $19.95, 978-1-5049-0523-7
(Reviewed: August 2015)

Blaire Sharpe’s memoir Not Really Gone initially appears to focus on how the author dealt with her grandmother’s death. Quickly, though, the story plunges into murkier waters: “Growing up in an alcoholic family,” she writes, “is like being raised in a war zone. Life is, at best, unpredictable. Threats lurk; traps are set; people explode; survival becomes the goal.”

Sharpe leads readers through a childhood marred by her father’s alcoholism and a mother who largely abandons her after not being awarded custody, post-divorce. In one particularly cruel event, Sharpe’s mother, whose fourth husband owned a small airport, suggests young Blaire go outside to see a helicopter land. Blaire sees a body unloaded in a military body bag, and as the wind blows sheet covering him, she glimpses the dead man’s naked thigh and buttocks, marked by wounds from bullets or shrapnel. She is especially hurt that her mother knew about the body and deliberately sent her out to witness it alone.

The author also shares her own struggles with addiction and dysfunctional sexual relationships, along with her brother’s mental illness and suicide attempt – and hints at sexual abuse from other family members. Throughout, her grandmother holds the family together as best she can, firm in her unwavering commitment to her loved ones.

Sharpe is a compelling storyteller, especially poignant when describing her grandmother’s dying days. The book would have been better served, however, if the long passage about her grandmother’s health decline had been shortened. This would have allowed her to discuss, in more depth, her own faith conversion and relationship with her second husband, who fathers their three children. The grandmother is presented as a bit too saintly, portrayed through the subjective eyes of a grieving granddaughter.

Nevertheless, this memoir is worth reading. As she ultimately recognizes her value as a survivor and a woman of hard-earned wisdom, Sharpe avoids clichés and jargon to deliver a satisfying read.

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Not Really Gone
Blaire Sharpe
AuthorHouse, 262 pages, (paperback) $19.95 or (E-Book) $3.99, 978-1-5049-0523-7
(Reviewed: October 2015)

I picked up this book with trepidation and some cynicism. Was this going to be another chronicle of self-pity, resentments and horrors with no intelligent attemptmade to understand the rationale behind addictive behaviours. Not so! This is an informed, well structured book and it touched me on many levels—both professionally and personally.

It is the account of the life of the author—Blaire Sharpe. The title is rather paradoxical and had me considering what was ‘Not Really Gone’ . . . the grandmother, the grandmother’s love, or the intrusive systemic nature of chemical dependence? I have to say I struggled with remembering the title. It seems rather underwhelming and at odds with the powerful message of the book.

These tales have been told before and the chemically dependent family system has been well documented. However this should not take away from the fact that the writer achieves an excellent portrayal of what is like for a child to be raised in a chemically dependent family system—not only the situations that arise but the emotions which prevail. The beginning says it all ‘Growing up in an alcoholic family is like being raised in a war zone’. The author, through her own experience, gives a vivid insight into what goes on for such a child; that sense of being different and becoming ‘the watcher’ (‘I studied everyone’); the description of her drunken father, aunt and uncle and her attempts to ‘fit in’.

The author is also a recovering alcoholic and seamlessly manages to give the reader an understanding of a family system which may have generations of chemically dependent people. The behaviours, thoughts and attitudes which take place in such a family system are vividly described. The beloved Grandma takes on the role so prevalent in chemically dependent family systems—the so-called codependent. ‘I assumed the role of caretaker so perfectly modelled for me by Grandma’.

There were times when reading this memoir that I had feelings of foreboding. I could sense the outcomes which were in store for the characters in this drama long before they themselves were aware— they portrayed the denial that surrounds chemical dependence. The writer talks of her own developing dependence and allows the reader a powerful glimpse of her denial: failed attempts to stop, repeating the same mistakes (e.g. forming inappropriate relationships), the excuses, the broken promises, the justifying, the minimizing and the lying. She also highlights the collusion around the denial; that of the therapist and her grandma (‘I’m not sure that’s the place for you’) in response to Blaire’s admission that she has attended AA meetings. Blaire also gives the reader an understanding of what goes on in the mind of the ‘alcoholic-in-waiting’. The signs that were there before the fateful day when she realized she couldn’t stop; the dysfunctional relationships, the disordered eating patterns, the obsessive ballet classes, the spiritual malady so often spoken about in 12 step meetings. As a child the author describes ‘. . . a deep hole inside me that needed filling . . .’ And later as an adult ‘I was in search of some secret information about myself’. In my experience, many chemically dependent people identify with these statements.

Although I don’t agree with the opening to the prelude ‘In every family there is a rock’ (unfortunately many dejected people are brought up in family systems where there is no rock), it is clear that in this child’s and adult child’s life, grandma was ‘the secure base’. She was the one who was always there—understanding and accepting even when the author rejected her help and advice. The latter part of the book is about the author’s recovery and the reversal of roles; she being the carer and Grandma’s dependence on her. I sensed the closing of the circle, even as the Grandma died, and a realization of how this grandma contributed to the ‘resilience and resourcefulness’ talked about in the early part of the book.

I would highly recommend this book not only for people and families in recovery but also for professionals working with them. It would also be an extremely useful book for those many despondent and discontented people who are unaware that the reason they may feel the way they do is because of their upbringing in an alcoholic or addictive home. The author has a spontaneous style of writing and although an autobiography, this reads like a novel. The chapter headings and her choice and use of epigraphs are particularly impressive. Near the end of the book the author writes ‘On that day, we both died and were both reborn’. I suspect that writing this book was a cathartic, healing and liberating experience for the author.

Lee Taylor
Castle Craig Hospital, Peeblesshire, UK
E-mail: l.taylor@castlecraig.co.uk

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ReaderViews
 
Not Really Gone
Blaire Sharpe
AuthorHouse (2015)
ISBN 9781504905237
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (01/16)

“Not Really Gone” by Blaire Sharpe tells the powerful story about her life, and growing up under the loving grasp of the “rock” in her family, her grandmother. The inspirational story about her relationship with her grandmother is captivating and shows the reader exactly what it means to be loved, and cherished.

Blaire’s parents were incapable of taking care of themselves, let alone raise her and her siblings, and the children were to be placed in foster care when their grandmother, Eleanor, intervened and took them to raise as her own. Eleanor was representative of patience, wisdom and strength as she endured through the struggles against her family’s legacy of alcoholism and depression. Though Blaire’s life was significantly improved in her grandmother’s care, she herself battled with addictions, but found recovery as she matured into adulthood. Later, with a family of her own, Blaire finds the tables are turned and lovingly takes care of her grandmother when Eleanor’s health declines.

This is a beautiful story, completely captivating, and authentic. I love the author’s natural story-telling ability as she tackles numerous life issues relevant to everyone. I felt the love between Blaire and her grandmother jump off the pages; this is such a heart-felt read. More than love is the tenderness and respect the women held dearly for each other. Often, while reading this story I found myself reminiscent of the wonderful times spent with my own grandmother, and spent an enjoyable amount of time on “memory lane” and though I’m sure that was not the author’s intent, I was grateful for the bittersweet distractions.

“Not Really Gone” by Blaire Sharpe is a commanding memoir, sure to engage the reader in deep reflection long after the book is put down. I find it unbelievable that this is her first book as she really is a gifted writer. I highly recommend this book to all families and caregivers. It is a wonderful book full of life lessons relevant to every single one of us. Well done.

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