Jen Knox’ memoir, Musical Chairs is an uplifting, hard knocks story of independence and of facing one’s fears. The book opens with Jen as a teenager who is in living in a house that’s falling apart at the seams as her parents’ marriage begins to crumble. She is a witness a home that is slowly divided up in quarters as both of her parents each carve a space for their own. Jen is weighted down by their silences and what is not said between them. This is juxtaposed with another side of Jen who is creating her own space and struggling to find herself as an adolescent girl and as a woman.
She learns the value of running as an athlete from her Dad and also as an escape mechanism from her Great Grandmother, one she’s heard about in family legends. And so she becomes a runaway teenager living life on her terms. She camps out at her boyfriend’s house and at friends ‘houses but doesn’t cave into others whims or even to the notion of what home means, finding a safety net of one’s own. That is a notion that’s at first too alien and foreign and ultimately too threatening. When she does finally contact her parents it’s to let them know she’s safe, even though they offer for her to live with them at their respective homes. Jen says no and later when she questions her own sanity and wonders if she might have inherited her Grandma’s mental illness she voluntarily checks herself into a center for troubled teens, and knows she’s in the wrong place, though in some way it’s the right place. Once there she finds the seed for reading and gains more humanity and a part of herself even though she’ll keep on running.
Lured by the hope of fast money, and the sense of power that her own sexuality brings Jen rises, then falls, as a stripper as she attempts to escape the hard life through booze binges. She says good bye to the stripper life, rekindles relations with both parents’, yet still has the urge to run. She hops from one job to the next on a path towards a college education. Along the way she settles down and wonders again about her own sanity as her fear catches up with her in the form of panic attacks. The ironic thing is that as her life gets calmer the old fears of not being safe find her, even though she discovers a home of her own making. It is what makes this story all the more human and real. For all its gritty edges Jen has an unshakable confidence and knows that if things get bad enough she can always run. Yet it’s the staying with her own fear, her panic that gives her the most courage as she welcomes in romantic love and forms a tight friendship with her Grandma, and learns that running runs deep in her family but that some things like love you can run to instead of running away.