Sarah's Reviews > Swallow the Ocean

Swallow the Ocean by Laura M. Flynn
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Jan 30, 12

Read from January 23 to 29, 2012

I'm really drawn to the tragic-upbringing memoirs and having read quite a few of them at this point (this probably isn't the greatest sign), I've become a little "been there, done that" about them. Emotionally immune. I realize these are people's lives and feelings and I shouldn't picture the events of their childhoods as mere tropes in a well-worn narrative, but it's hard to fight the urge to be somewhat hardened.

That said,this book took me completely by surprise. It's from a smaller publishing house, the cover image is slightly pixellated, which lends it this initially somewhat-cheap feel, but Flynn's writing is compelling and at times phenomenal. While I've read plenty of memoirs of mentally ill parents (like The Glass Castle), I was never quite drawn into the story the way I was while reading Swallow the Ocean. The use of water imagery, if sometimes a bit heavy-handed, was apt and poetic and highlighted a young girl's desperate attempts to survive in a life increasingly dominated by her mother's erratic behavior. And while clearly this was never going to be a feel-good story, the ending was especially heartbreaking. I almost cried human tears.

A few things that slightly annoyed me, though: while I appreciated that Flynn was trying to juxtapose her childhood self with her older, adult self looking back on these events, at times the temporal shift felt awkward. In one sentence, she'd be five years old; in the next, she'd be speaking as if in present day. Either I got more used to this or she got better about it, but the second half of the book was a much smoother read. And although I understand that in one scene where she hypothetically, retroactively enters her mother's mind to describe her motivation during a scene from Flynn's childhood, she's doing so to convince us that her mother is a product of a disease and not a monster, I found these fictionalized "thoughts" distracting. During the final pages of the book, as Flynn muses about the disease and how it manifests itself over time, I feel she hammers this point home handily.

All in all, a very well-written, heartfelt memoir with a few minor weaknesses.
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