Julie Christine's Reviews > Educated

Educated by Tara Westover
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really liked it
bookshelves: book-club-selection, bio-autobio-memoir, best-of-2018, read-2018

I. Debuting (again)
After presenting one of my novels last month to a large and long-standing book club, I was asked to join. This author hugged herself for joy and accepted membership with grace and glee, since she is trying to restart her life in a place where she's lived for several years, a small town where circles intersect and collide and she's forever running into herself, her recent past, her new present. What a joy to be in a collection of women new to her, who see her as person whole unto herself, not the ex-wife of so-and-so, not the ex-girlfriend of, 'Oh him. I know him,' not the present partner of the ex-boyfriend of the woman who... well, at least she doesn't live here anymore.

Our pasts, circling around us with their ambivalent lessons, their ambiguous truths, memories recollected in different ways at different times by those who may have been present or who merely know someone who . . . Whose story is it to tell?

II. Disappointment
I've yet to find a book club that has not ended in disappointment. I swore the last one, when I made a beautiful cake and everyone cancelled at the last minute, would be the last. It's been four years and a lifetime ago. I'm trying again. This group seems serious.

III. Discovery
One of the joys about a great book club is being introduced to books I likely wouldn't read on my own. Despite the buzz, or perhaps because of it, I would have avoided Tara Westover's memoir, which struck me as one of those misery tales to be frustrated and exasperated by. An indeed it is. But it is so much more.

IV. Dismay
Educated isn't about growing up Mormon. I think you'd probably learn more about the Church of Latter Day Saints watching a performance of The Book of Mormon. Westover's memoir is about growing up in the shadow of profound mental illness—her father's—and the Stockholm Syndrome-like effects it had on Westover, his six siblings, and her enabling and imprisoned mother.

Combing through numerous reviews and interviews of the book and its author, I come across much questioning of the veracity of events in Educated. The calamities, injuries, and profound intellectual isolation of the Westover family do strain credulity for much of this finely-wrought narrative. Westover herself tries to cut doubt off at the pass by expressing her uncertainty of how these many dramas unfolded, checking and rechecking with her siblings and others on the periphery of this large and strange family, admitting that there are multiple avenues to memory.

I've worked with authors struggling through memoir and a few of them I have advised to turn their personal tales into fiction. It would ease the telling and allow them freedom to express their stories without fear or being held to details they can't quite recall or are too bound by familial or friend loyalty to share. Basically, their stories would be better as novels than as memoirs.

Westover's, however, would simply be ridiculous. It would be something you'd throw at the wall for its impossibility and strangling of disbelief. Truth, as they say, is stranger than fiction. We are enraptured by her family's crazy train, horrified by the violence, mortified that these people could be crushed, impaled, burned, smashed and still go on in defiance of modern medicine and common sense, all in thrall of a narcissistic madman.

V. Determination
Westover found her way out, an autodidact who filled in the holes of the Swiss-cheese home schooling with study in the sly. Success with the ACT got her into Brigham Young University, where she discovered the Holocaust and Martin Luther King, Jr. In a short time, she went on to complete fellowships at Cambridge and Harvard, and a Ph.D at Cambridge. She is now just 32.

There is something incomplete about Educated. It is a crisp, lucid and lyrical recitation of events, riveting in content and skilled in narrative pacing and structure. Yet, Westover has only recently removed herself from the core of this strange and destructive family, not only her bizarre parents, but several of her siblings, including Shawn, her torturer. What's missing is an emotional depth and resonance that comes from reflection and distance. The reader only gets a sense of Tara Westover as a complete woman, perhaps because she's only recently begun to learn who that woman is, separate from her past.

VI. Decision
The perfect book club read, Educated is sure to engender fascinating debate. Book Club met last night to discuss Rene Denfeld's outstanding The Child Finder, and those of us who'd already read Educated couldn't help but comment what a fascinating companion this made- another book examining memory, and how we find our way to love those who hurt us the most, and the costs and rewards of letting them go.

Highly Recommended.
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Reading Progress

April 20, 2018 – Shelved
April 20, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
April 20, 2018 – Shelved as: book-club-selection
April 25, 2018 – Started Reading
April 25, 2018 – Shelved as: bio-autobio-memoir
April 28, 2018 – Shelved as: best-of-2018
April 28, 2018 – Shelved as: read-2018
April 28, 2018 – Finished Reading

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message 1: by Annagrace (new)

Annagrace K. You’ve convinced me to read this. Thank you!

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