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An Abbreviated Life: A Memoir

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A beautiful, startling, and candid memoir about growing up without boundaries, in which Ariel Leve recalls with candor and sensitivity the turbulent time she endured as the only child of an unstable poet for a mother and a beloved but largely absent father, and explores the consequences of a psychologically harrowing childhood as she seeks refuge from the past and recovers A beautiful, startling, and candid memoir about growing up without boundaries, in which Ariel Leve recalls with candor and sensitivity the turbulent time she endured as the only child of an unstable poet for a mother and a beloved but largely absent father, and explores the consequences of a psychologically harrowing childhood as she seeks refuge from the past and recovers what was lost. Ariel Leve grew up in Manhattan with an eccentric mother she describes as “a poet, an artist, a self-appointed troublemaker and attention seeker.” Leve learned to become her own parent, taking care of herself and her mother’s needs. There would be uncontrolled, impulsive rages followed with denial, disavowed responsibility, and then extreme outpourings of affection. How does a child learn to feel safe in this topsy-turvy world of conditional love? Leve captures the chaos and lasting impact of a child’s life under siege and explores how the coping mechanisms she developed to survive later incapacitated her as an adult. There were material comforts, but no emotional safety, except for summer visits to her father’s home in South East Asia—an escape that was terminated after he attempted to gain custody. Following the death of a loving caretaker, a succession of replacements raised Leve—relationships which resulted in intense attachment and loss. It was not until decades later, when Leve moved to other side of the world, that she could begin to emancipate herself from the past. In a relationship with a man who has children, caring for them yields clarity of what was missing. In telling her haunting story, Leve seeks to understand the effects of chronic psychological maltreatment on a child’s developing brain, and to discover how to build a life for herself that she never dreamed possible: An unabbreviated life.


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A beautiful, startling, and candid memoir about growing up without boundaries, in which Ariel Leve recalls with candor and sensitivity the turbulent time she endured as the only child of an unstable poet for a mother and a beloved but largely absent father, and explores the consequences of a psychologically harrowing childhood as she seeks refuge from the past and recovers A beautiful, startling, and candid memoir about growing up without boundaries, in which Ariel Leve recalls with candor and sensitivity the turbulent time she endured as the only child of an unstable poet for a mother and a beloved but largely absent father, and explores the consequences of a psychologically harrowing childhood as she seeks refuge from the past and recovers what was lost. Ariel Leve grew up in Manhattan with an eccentric mother she describes as “a poet, an artist, a self-appointed troublemaker and attention seeker.” Leve learned to become her own parent, taking care of herself and her mother’s needs. There would be uncontrolled, impulsive rages followed with denial, disavowed responsibility, and then extreme outpourings of affection. How does a child learn to feel safe in this topsy-turvy world of conditional love? Leve captures the chaos and lasting impact of a child’s life under siege and explores how the coping mechanisms she developed to survive later incapacitated her as an adult. There were material comforts, but no emotional safety, except for summer visits to her father’s home in South East Asia—an escape that was terminated after he attempted to gain custody. Following the death of a loving caretaker, a succession of replacements raised Leve—relationships which resulted in intense attachment and loss. It was not until decades later, when Leve moved to other side of the world, that she could begin to emancipate herself from the past. In a relationship with a man who has children, caring for them yields clarity of what was missing. In telling her haunting story, Leve seeks to understand the effects of chronic psychological maltreatment on a child’s developing brain, and to discover how to build a life for herself that she never dreamed possible: An unabbreviated life.

30 review for An Abbreviated Life: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Luke Narlee

    Updated! I wanted to make sure and rate this memoir before the year was over, because it's one of my favorite books of the year. Easily my favorite memoir/non-fiction of 2016. This fascinating memoir is a "mommy dearest" type tale, written so beautifully that you sometimes forget how unsettling it all is. Ariel Leve grew up with a celebrity-ish mother who was both unpredictable and manic, not to mention completely insane (as far as I'm concerned). She was forever telling po Updated! I wanted to make sure and rate this memoir before the year was over, because it's one of my favorite books of the year. Easily my favorite memoir/non-fiction of 2016. This fascinating memoir is a "mommy dearest" type tale, written so beautifully that you sometimes forget how unsettling it all is. Ariel Leve grew up with a celebrity-ish mother who was both unpredictable and manic, not to mention completely insane (as far as I'm concerned). She was forever telling poor little Ariel that nobody else in her life really cared about her or loved her or even wanted her around. Her crazy mother was the only one on this Earth that she could truly trust. The psychological abuse was endless. Her mother would disappear for days at time, focused on her career or having fun with other men, while a series of nanny-types helped look after Ariel. The best person for the job had a habit of changing frequently because nobody could deal with her mother’s antics. Which was unfortunate because these other women were far better mothers' to her than her real mother ever dreamed of being. And unfortunately, her father, despite being a decent man, dipped out early. Left the country when Ariel was five in order to get as far away from her mother as possible. The fascinating part is, Ariel never seems to judge her father for this. There’s no resentment. She doesn’t hold a grudge. She spends loving moments with him as an adult because she loves him and understands how impossible her mother was. Come to think of it, Ariel never seems to judge anybody in this book, even her mother. She tells her stories matter-of-factly. This is what happened, and this is how it made me feel at the time. She was clearly wise beyond her years, even as a young child. I guess that’s more likely to happen when you’re forced to grow up really fast. The things that her mother does and says is often disturbing, like an accident you can't look away from. For example, her mother loved to play a game called “giving birth,” where she would try to relive “the happiest moment of her life” by laying completely naked in bed under a sheet, and have seven-year-old Ariel crawl underneath, get between her legs for a minute or two and then pop out as her mother would blow and grunt and pretend to give birth to her daughter again. Interestingly enough, this game provided some of their most genuinely touching moments between the two of them. This was when Ariel felt truly loved and appreciated by her mother. She felt special. Despite the disturbing nature of how the game was being played, there was nothing sexual about it. Her mother honestly had no idea that what she was doing could possibly be deemed inappropriate. This is evident by the fact that during one of the few times that Ariel has a friend over to play, her mother invites them both into her bedroom to play “giving birth.” Needless, to say, that friend was never allowed to come over again. I have no doubt that Ariel’s mom loved her very much, she just wasn’t mentally fit to show it properly. I think that’s part of the reason I find her mother to be a very interesting character to read about, as opposed to someone that made my skin crawl every time she was on the page. I think that’s one of the things that sets this story apart from the other books of this sort, such as the more extreme “Mommy Dearest” or “Sybil.” (God, the woman who played Sybil’s mom in the movie version still gives me the creeps.) I never found any of the content to be so disturbing that I wanted to stop reading. I think it’s important to point out (for those who are sensitive to this) that her mother never physically harms Ariel (that I can remember). Apart from the things I’ve already mentioned, she was mostly an embarrassment to Ariel. Showing up at her school inappropriate clothing. Saying things that would make anyone’s jaw drop. No filter, and no sense of needing one. Ariel Leve is a fantastic writer, and she knows how to tell a tale. I love the format of this book, in which she chooses to jump back and forth between past and present. In some books, this technique can be rather annoying. But not in this one, because the segments fit together perfectly. Fist, she'll tell you a tale of her past, then show you how it still affects her everyday life as an adult, as she tries to be as normal as she can while interacting with other adults, children and potential boyfriends. She's still trying to figure out what normal is, because her childhood was anything but. I've known far too many people with this problem, and it's heartbreaking. Children deserve better than this. Love can be many things, but it's certainly not a threat to hold over someone's head, or a method in which to keep someone mentally hostage, as is the case here. Another thing I like about this book is how it’s mostly written in quick, brief paragraphs and short chapters. I feel like I could pick this up at any time, read a page or two, admire it and put it down. Now, you may be thinking that’s weird, considering what she’s writing about, but for me, the entire book has a very relaxing, dream-like quality to it that puts me in a bit of a trance. The segments about her adult life are often gorgeous and uplifting, in both setting and the poetic way in which it’s written. Even the childhood flashbacks have a beautifully, yet haunting surreal quality to them. Here’s a good example of how she’s jump from adulthood, back to childhood in the following two paragraphs. Here, compares what she learned about love then, to what she’s learning about it now. In the first paragraph she’s an adult, beginning to form a close, meaningful bond with her boyfriend’s daughters: THE GIRLS BOTH run across the garden after me as I get on my bicycle. I open the green gate and they follow me out onto the black pebble road. They stand there, both of them shielding their eyes from the sun, seeing me off. “I’m going to stay here and watch you ride away on your bicycle,” one of them says. “Because I love you.” I pedal away for a few seconds and then stop. I get off the bike, flick the kickstand with my foot, and stand with both arms extended forward. This is the signal for a hug. The girls come running over and wrap their arms around my torso, one on either side. I pull them in tight. We embrace for a few seconds and then I lean down so that they can kiss me on the face. I kiss them back, several times, before taking off again on my bike. MY MOTHER SAYS, “What kind of daughter doesn’t want to kiss her own mother? How did I get such an unaffectionate child?” I don’t respond. Her ire doesn’t change my mind. And I don’t feel criminal. When my mother kissed me, I wiped the kiss off my cheek. I used the back of my hand and wrinkled my nose. Her kisses were uncomfortable on my skin. She was wounded by this reaction. But it wasn’t meant to punish her. It was an instinctive revolt. She responded by grasping me in her arms, suffocating me with kiss after kiss after kiss after kiss. “Don’t!” I protested, trying to disentangle from her clutch, like a cat that thrashes around when it doesn’t want to be held. I knew, in a way that I couldn’t articulate, her kisses weren’t about me. For me, reading this book was like making a new best friend. One that is very flawed and obviously has a lot of issues to work out, but she's also very genuine and warm-hearted, so when she talks about her past, you listen. Because you care. There's a lot of people that grow up with unstable parents. I for one, am not one of those people, thankfully. My parents were as kind and loving as parents get. But, like I said, many people have, and I think reading this helped me to understand what they went through a whole lot better. So, this one comes highly recommended from me. I realize this won’t be any easy read for some, depending on how well they can relate, but I recommend giving it a chance. It's very easy to get lost in it and read through it pretty fast because of how smoothly it's written. You read the flashbacks in horror (but, again, not like "not for the squeamish" horror, just unsettling) then read the other parts with admiration, and a smile on your face. If you're on the fence with this one, I recommend clicking on a sample and reading the first page or two. After that you'll already have a pretty good of an idea of what you're getting yourself into. And if you are a fan of memoirs in general, like I know some of you are, then you'd be foolish to not at least give this one a shot. It seems preposterous to me that a book this good only has 65 reviews on Goodreads currently. And only four on Amazon! I know there's a been a lot of books written about this topic already, but they're rarely as good as this. If you know anyone who grew up with a mentally unstable parent, I guarantee you'll look at them in a different light after this. And if that person is you, then I hope reading this will bring you some sort of comfort, and that it's similar to listening to a new friend who can relate to what you went through. But it feels like this will hit too close to home, then that's okay too. Skip it. You've been through enough. There's many other books in the sea.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    How do you review a book that mirrors your soul? An Abbreviated Life stunned me over and over again, as Ariel Leve writes about growing up with a mother who abused her, a mother whose constant venom and lack of boundaries reminded me of my own. Leve's mother berated her nonstop and made her feel unsafe in her own home; my mother yelled at me all the time and sent me sprawling into an eating disorder. Senior year of high school, I ran away from home and then left for college to preserve my sanity, my How do you review a book that mirrors your soul? An Abbreviated Life stunned me over and over again, as Ariel Leve writes about growing up with a mother who abused her, a mother whose constant venom and lack of boundaries reminded me of my own. Leve's mother berated her nonstop and made her feel unsafe in her own home; my mother yelled at me all the time and sent me sprawling into an eating disorder. Senior year of high school, I ran away from home and then left for college to preserve my sanity, my health; in her mid-40s, Leve escaped across the world to Bali, so she could break free from her mother's imprisonment and learn to trust and to love again. Leve recovered from her awful childhood through writing, through receiving the kindness of her caretakers and father and therapist; I healed much in the same way, through reading, through accepting the care of my mentors and friends and therapist. A quote that captures just a slice of Leve's experience growing up with an unstable, toxic mother: "If I wanted independence in any way, I was hurting her. Her feeling that she was being abandoned would trigger her aggression. Her behavior threatened my safety. I deserved it. I was out to get her. I'd been poisoned against her. I wasn't smart enough to get it. I wasn't appreciative of who she was and what she did. I was special, brilliant, and talented. All she cared about was my happiness. I love you meant nothing. I hate you meant nothing. She meant all of it. I felt none of it." I have so much to praise about An Abbreviated Life. I could write forever about Leve's concise, piercing prose, her unflinching, ruthless, yet compassionate examination of her past, and the beautiful, tragic way she juxtaposes her mother's abuse with how she herself got to parent her partner's children with affection and stability. But I am most blown away by her courage. In this book, she writes abut gaslighting, about how the worst part of being a trauma victim is not the trauma itself, but how people will try to erase your experience, by calling you a liar and saying your suffering never happened. As someone who has faced this onslaught myself, I know the pain, that black hole of self-doubt that opens when individual people and society both refuse to acknowledge child abuse, especially emotional abuse. Leve's book, then, is the ultimate light in a world that wants to keep people in the dark. Through sharing her story, she allows others to feel less ashamed, less alone, and more able to seek the support they need. Another passage that struck me to my core, about not having the privilege of a loving parent: "Privilege would have been falling asleep at night without fear about what would happen as the night went on. Privilege would have been not being woken up with terror. Privilege would have been not having to disown negative feelings or suppress them because those feelings were not permitted. Not being punished for responding appropriately to inappropriate behavior. Privilege would have been not being held responsible for the stability of my mother's psyche. Privilege would have been stability. An indemnity from being idealized one minute, devalued the next. Privilege would have been a parent capable of empathy. A protector." Overall, I am just so thankful that Ariel Leve wrote this magnificent, painful, hopeful memoir, that she cultivated courage and resilience and healing, and that she found people who loved her unconditionally even when her mother did not. I am so thankful to live in a time when creative nonfiction and memoir are taking off, where writers like Ariel Leve, Caroline Knapp, Garrard Conley, and so many others can inspire us with their strength and vulnerability. And, as self-centered as this is, I am thankful for my own healing process, for the people in my life - including those on Goodreads - who have helped me help myself, to achieve the kind of self-soothing that Leve writes about so eloquently in An Abbreviated Life. I will end this review with one final quote, one of my favorites, because it shows that for those of us who have faced abuse like Leve's - we will be okay. "But I did break free. I am here now, in Bali, and I must learn to control the impulses that will destroy the loving climate I thrive in, one that I have fought hard to achieve. I have the scary feeling of not knowing what will happen. The tiniest rupture feels like a chasm. It is not about the moment; it is forty-five years of history, and I want to know the future is secure. I just want I just need I just I just. I let it go. And I, in spite of my need to be reassured, focus instead on the good feelings. I trust, which is so hard to come by, that it will be okay. That I will be okay. No matter what."

  3. 4 out of 5

    Idarah

    “Imagine someone lies to you and about you. Imagine this person is your mother, whose job it is to provide safety, security, consistency, and love. ‘You’re my sunshine,’ she says. ‘The love of my life.’ But her love comes with conditions. You need to be able to give her what she needs first. You have to meet her demands. For attention, appreciation, company, and admiration. Anything else is unacceptable. But no matter how much you give, there will be a need for more. These are the ter “Imagine someone lies to you and about you. Imagine this person is your mother, whose job it is to provide safety, security, consistency, and love. ‘You’re my sunshine,’ she says. ‘The love of my life.’ But her love comes with conditions. You need to be able to give her what she needs first. You have to meet her demands. For attention, appreciation, company, and admiration. Anything else is unacceptable. But no matter how much you give, there will be a need for more. These are the terms. You were five. You were ten. You were twenty. You were forty. And at forty-five, something changed.”—Ariel Leve I am drawn to people’s life stories, especially when they are about troubled relationships between mother and daughter. I have a great relationship with my own mother, although we’ve weathered some tough storms together. Ariel’s account of growing up with her mother, feminist poet, Sandra Hochman, was so incredulous that I could understand why she first attempted to write it as a novel. Hochman was a narcissistic, eccentric artist who didn’t have an ounce of maternal instinct. I feel harsh writing that, but some people just aren’t cut out for parenthood. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Mommy Dearest. At the age of forty-five, Ariel decides to cut ties with her manipulative mother. The memoir begins with her contemplating how to word her letter from half way across the world. Thereafter she relates growing up with her mother in their glitzy Manhattan apartment, where her mom hosted elaborate dinner parties with famous authors and actors of the 60s and 70s. Early on it’s clear that Ariel is the parent figure, and that Hochman has serious boundary issues (also more than likely suffers from mental illness). “Whether abuse of a child is physical, psychological, or sexual, it sets off a ripple of hormonal changes that wire the child’s brain to cope with a malevolent world.”—Martin Teicher One day Leve realizes that what she’s always thought of as a “normal childhood” was in fact quite the reverse. With help from her psychiatrist and a prominent doctor at a notorious behavioral hospital, she travels back in time to reanalyze her toxic relationship with her mother and to see if she can be rehabilitated. I love the way this book ended. I love the way it was sparsely written, and the journalistic feel of the relating of events. I rated this 4.5 stars, but I’m pretty sure that it’s a favorite of mine. I would highly recommend it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kelli

    I want to give every memoir five stars. Writing a memoir is such a brave decision...making oneself vulnerable, opening up chapters of your life for all to see. I give nothing but love to the author, who shares her story of the deep psychological abuse she endured at the hands of her mentally unstable mother. I rejoice in her strength to not only persevere but in most respects overcome her childhood. I hope that writing this memoir was cathartic and healing for her. Stylistically, it read purpose I want to give every memoir five stars. Writing a memoir is such a brave decision...making oneself vulnerable, opening up chapters of your life for all to see. I give nothing but love to the author, who shares her story of the deep psychological abuse she endured at the hands of her mentally unstable mother. I rejoice in her strength to not only persevere but in most respects overcome her childhood. I hope that writing this memoir was cathartic and healing for her. Stylistically, it read purposefully disjointed and painfully honest. The writing was excellent. The last two chapters were particularly affecting. But if I am honest, this did not resonate with me as it did with so many other readers. It seemed endless. Endlessly endless. 2.5 stars for this one but all respect and love to the author.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

    I don’t quite know how to write about this book in a way that is respectful to the author and the genre. This is always a problem I run into when I don’t quite enjoy a memoir. This is somebody’s life I am talking about and who am I to tell them how to tell their story? But I struggled with this. Ariel Leve tells of her difficult relationship with her emotionally (and maybe physically) abusive mother and how this has influenced who she became. It is not until her forties that she reali I don’t quite know how to write about this book in a way that is respectful to the author and the genre. This is always a problem I run into when I don’t quite enjoy a memoir. This is somebody’s life I am talking about and who am I to tell them how to tell their story? But I struggled with this. Ariel Leve tells of her difficult relationship with her emotionally (and maybe physically) abusive mother and how this has influenced who she became. It is not until her forties that she realizes what long-reaching consequences her childhood had. I am in awe of Leve’s bravery of confronting her inner demons and of trying to find closure. The thing that hit me the strongest was the realisation that Ariel Leve is still not sure anybody will believe her account of her relationship with her mother. The gaslighting cut so deep that even years, even decades later, while writing her memoir, she needs outside perspectives, the assurance that others have seen it too, to be able to tell this story. Which is why she quotes letters written by people close to her, her therapist, and even her father; she feels the need to prove beyond doubt that she had a horrible childhood. This was by far the most successful part of the book for me – and something I am not so sure was intentional on the author’s part. The book is loosely structured and told in short paragraphs jumping through time; a technique I am usually particularly fond of. Here I found the framing (a story of her falling in love with a quiet man who never talks about his feelings and of starting to act as a mother to his twin daughters) a bit tedious. She never examines her relationship in a meaningful way and moreover seems to think that because Mario does not talk much he must be more truthful and more worthy than other people. A conclusion I cannot agree with – I mean, I love that she found happiness, but equating quietness with honesty seems a bit shortsighted. Leve seems unable to look outside her own trauma while pretending to do just that (I am notoriously glad when women unapologetically center their art around themselves, but they do have to own it). She sometimes sounds dismissive of other people’s trauma to a point that made it difficult to read (example: “My emotionally imparied beliefs have a source. This information is comforting because it is a real, scientific explanation. Feeling grounded in an uncertain world is not a matter of willpower or getting over it in the way one might get over a breakup, a lost job, a death, or an outrage.” p. 138). When talking to a neuroscientist specialising in trauma she realises the myriad ways in which her trauma has fundamentally altered her – but she never extends that line of thinking to her mother who supposedly also suffered trauma. And now, I don’t mean to say that she has to take her abuser’s feelings into account when writing about her own story, but it does not seem to fit into the overall narrative voice that she doesn’t find these parallels and draws on them. Especially because she herself works to provide the twins with the childhood stability she had wished for herself. That this inability to give proper room to the outside world might be directly influenced by her mothers gaslighting is something I would have loved to have seen explored. The book is well-written and competently told. It just does not even come close to some of the brilliant memoirs I have read the last couple of years. And it is a shame because I was so very sure this would be amazing. You can find this review and other thoughts on books on my blog.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    3.0 Stars At the age of 45, often from a country half way around the world, Ariel Leve tells the story of her psychological abuse at the hands of her mother while growing up at 180 E 79th Street in NYC, and a lifetime working to repair the damage. Brain damage. That’s what Emily calls it. Emily is her therapist. Ariel has been seeing her on and off for the past seventeen years. “There are parts of your brain that did not develop the way they should have. And the way you function/>“There 3.0 Stars At the age of 45, often from a country half way around the world, Ariel Leve tells the story of her psychological abuse at the hands of her mother while growing up at 180 E 79th Street in NYC, and a lifetime working to repair the damage. Brain damage. That’s what Emily calls it. Emily is her therapist. Ariel has been seeing her on and off for the past seventeen years. “There are parts of your brain that did not develop the way they should have. And the way you function is a consequence … she explains how children reflect the world they are raised in. Trauma, fear and anxiety alters the brain as it is developing.” Leve is an accomplished and successful journalist and author. Her mother was a successful American poet and feminist film-maker. Her mother suffered from the trauma of abandonment by her parents at a very early age and her mental illness rained down on Ariel in the form of psychological ambush, conditional love, violent and vulgar outbursts, emotional instability and threats. I struggled with the cadence of the story, told through paragraphic bursts of the past and present, moving from today to the past when she was five years old, seven years old, nine years, in her bedroom in NYC to her time with her loving father in Thailand. I didn’t care for the literary approach but I suppose that reflects the turmoil of her life. Arrested life. Autopilot existence. An adulthood of recuperation. The story is sad but profound and ultimately redeeming. While the damage cannot be completely undone, Leve seems to end her story with a degree of self-love and an elevated sense of self-esteem. I feel her strength and determination to live her adult life in the face of a withering onslaught of feelings and flashbacks to her childhood, an arrested life, An Abbreviated Life!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Riva Sciuto

    One of the best memoirs I have ever read. Ariel invites us to experience life through her stories -- as brutal and excruciating and painful as they are. Her recollections -- spanning from early childhood to mid-adulthood -- reflect on the long-term ramifications of emotional and psychological abuse -- but her desire for a better, freer life ultimately prevails. Her openness makes us feel the wrath of an unstable and erratic mother, but her decision to free herself from the abuse reminds us that One of the best memoirs I have ever read. Ariel invites us to experience life through her stories -- as brutal and excruciating and painful as they are. Her recollections -- spanning from early childhood to mid-adulthood -- reflect on the long-term ramifications of emotional and psychological abuse -- but her desire for a better, freer life ultimately prevails. Her openness makes us feel the wrath of an unstable and erratic mother, but her decision to free herself from the abuse reminds us that we ALWAYS have the choice for a better life. Ariel's memoir is a beautiful reminder that we may not be able to choose our family, but we can always, always choose our own path.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Charlotte

    This is hard slog - not because of the content or subject - but the way it's written. I'm assuming it was structured to reflect memory, but the result was a very chop/change, inconsistent, paragraph to paragraph swing between the story/memories and her current feelings/in time. Others here have wondered why it was published and I have to agree. This reads as a cathartic outlet of someone who is only dealing with their past in their 40's, rather than a book which has had a long time of reflection This is hard slog - not because of the content or subject - but the way it's written. I'm assuming it was structured to reflect memory, but the result was a very chop/change, inconsistent, paragraph to paragraph swing between the story/memories and her current feelings/in time. Others here have wondered why it was published and I have to agree. This reads as a cathartic outlet of someone who is only dealing with their past in their 40's, rather than a book which has had a long time of reflection and understanding invested into it. She speaks for some reasons for her mother's behaviour, but the overarching tone is that of a stunned victim. I kept waiting for the pivotal moment of change, the turn of her perspective and I thought it would come when she spoke to the neuroscientist, but the woeful tone continued, as if knowledge was reinforcement, rather than power. The continual pathos was so frustrating, as someone who shares a similar experience this book reinforced the sense that the affected will always be broken, when in reality many people from these situations go on to live rich and meaningful lives.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lolly K Dandeneau

    "I am in hiding, an emotional fugitive." https://bookstalkerblog.wordpress.com... I held my breath in sorrow for her, even what passes for normal when there isn't anything to measure your life against, Ariel knew her mother's behaviors were 'off'. Being a child and unable to have your own feelings validated, always walking on eggshells, wondering which mommy you will deal with today, it has to do so "I am in hiding, an emotional fugitive." https://bookstalkerblog.wordpress.com... I held my breath in sorrow for her, even what passes for normal when there isn't anything to measure your life against, Ariel knew her mother's behaviors were 'off'. Being a child and unable to have your own feelings validated, always walking on eggshells, wondering which mommy you will deal with today, it has to do something to you. The painful part of memoirs for me is knowing you can't step in and help and it isn't fiction. On the other side of the coin, obviously her mother wasn't normal and needed help, it's interesting how adults don't know how to step in and often when they do it makes things worse or nothing happens. Without pointing fingers (for legal reasons) anyone with someone in their life who is histrionic and a grand manipulator, they know full grown adults can tremble around such people. Most people don't like scenes, and so many of us can't untangle ourselves from expert manipulators- I don't care how smart you profess to be. When it's coming from someone you are related to or love, there is guilt, because we are supposed to love each other no matter what, especially if it's your parent (honor thy mother and father etc). I have seen and been told tales of such a parent, and I don't care if it's labeled abuse or not, speaking to an adult that has lived with such a parent, it lingers like a bad smell. And sometimes, removing yourself is vital to survival. So why didn't anyone save her? I thought about that, because her mother was 'crafty' and could easily convince others that she was fine, and she tells us as much. It's tricky. A mother's love should be without strings attached, minus conditions, ideally anyway. This isn't so for Ariel. The cringe worthy moments when her mother made scenes, begging even for a man 'not to leave', or embarrassing her at school, or in front of friends is gut wrenching. (again without saying who, I know a similar incident of someone I love dearly being humiliated when he was a little boy by his mother, he is in his 70's- these things stay with us). Thinking about the exciting people her mother knew didn't take the sting out of her version of such gatherings, who cares what celebrity is at your house when you are just a little kid who needs rest and has to get up for school but the adults are chaotic or loud, partying 'til the break of dawn.' It sounds silly, but to those who know sleep deprivation it's awful! If you care for children, you know this isn't right. Reading about Ariel's life I have to admit, many people dismiss the suffering children of privilege go through, as if having things and money makes everything that happens to them okay. "Well you can't think I am a bad mom because I gave you everything." I have always felt when you raise children, you don't keep a tally of what's owed you. You give and nurture them because it's an expression of love, and it's your job to guide them. You don't get to erase bad treatment because you 'gave so much,' anymore than abusing your partner is fine as long as you say sorry with gifts. I imagine this is a young woman people would envy from afar and never imagine how lonely and abused she was. There are people who flinch because of physical abuse, why should we think emotional abuse is any less damaging? The good is the people who were there for her, but choices she has to make later in life about her mother aren't a quick fix, certainly it is something she still internalizes and struggles with, but necessary, so very necessary. This is about a little girl who in so many ways was her mother's keeper, and maybe will get a second chance at childhood through love.

  10. 4 out of 5

    david

    Every family may be dysfunctional. But some members of this unit are hit more frequently, are more vulnerable to hurt. And abuse, more often than not, is invisible. It may percolate in the mind of the targeted person(s) for a lifetime. And it can rarely be explained to another or understood by your friend. It is something one carries alone, regardless of its weight. With little relief. Many times, the marked member will spend a lifetime attempting to eviscerate t Every family may be dysfunctional. But some members of this unit are hit more frequently, are more vulnerable to hurt. And abuse, more often than not, is invisible. It may percolate in the mind of the targeted person(s) for a lifetime. And it can rarely be explained to another or understood by your friend. It is something one carries alone, regardless of its weight. With little relief. Many times, the marked member will spend a lifetime attempting to eviscerate the constant and chronic imbalance they feel. This woman, a journalist/writer, was abused by her mother. She was an only child of privileged parents who grew up in New York City, the East Side. Mom and Dad split when she was young, about five years old. And this is her story. Three to four hundred pages of the hurt she received and still endures by her mother; a poet, and a socialite. And a wacky drama queen. Yes, this book needed to be written. But for who? Readers at large? Or is it a hopeful self-healing diary for herself? There were many pithy maxims but they did not make up for her verbosity, redundancy, acute unawareness of self-pity prose. She was hurt. Understood. But too much of the same bad thing, involving the same two characters, does not a great memoir make. However, she should be respected for this attempt. And her pain was felt.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Robin

    The writing is gorgeous, the story is real. Do not miss An Abbreviated Life by Ariel Leve. This book is about survival and I hope it find its way into many many hands.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Wendi

    An Abbreviated Life is one of those rare books about which I'm not really going to be able to say much. This isn't due to any lack on the part of this memoir, but more that its contents hit so close to home that it feels so overwhelming and personal that it's difficult to write about. Although her name seemed familiar, I wasn't really sure that I'd previously read anything by Leve, and when I told a friend I was reading this book and she instantly knew who I was talking about, I finally googled An Abbreviated Life is one of those rare books about which I'm not really going to be able to say much. This isn't due to any lack on the part of this memoir, but more that its contents hit so close to home that it feels so overwhelming and personal that it's difficult to write about. Although her name seemed familiar, I wasn't really sure that I'd previously read anything by Leve, and when I told a friend I was reading this book and she instantly knew who I was talking about, I finally googled her. In the process I discovered a review at The Guardian, wherein the writer felt emotionally distressed about the way she perceived Leve's writing of the memoir and her separation from her mother as a betrayal, and she felt badly for Leve's mother. She even tracked her down to her apartment to interview her about the book. It was when I felt hostility towards that reviewer that I understood three things: 1. I likely can't write coherently about this memoir, as my own experiences and loss of my own autonomy within those experiences just places me beyond the realm of anything close to unbiased thinking. 2. This memoir was more helpful to me than any self help books I've read on the subject, simply because I both freaked out about the similarities to my own reality and felt gratitude and relief to know that it's not just me who has gone through these experiences. 3. That reviewer clearly had no idea what it could be like to grow up with a controlling, gaslighting, emotionally manipulative narcissistic mother... and, unfortunately, apparently having read Leve's memoir wasn't enough for her to understand the horrors of that environment. Which also makes me think that there may be any number of readers out there who simply cannot imagine having a mother so different from their own experiences that they may put this book down, thinking that Leve is either being too sensitive or overly dramatic or even cruel towards her mother. Most everyone has some level of strife or drama in their relationship with their mother, but if they go into this memoir believing that they they might empathize with Leve's experiences, they may well be shocked or questioning Leve's veracity when they discover that this situation is beyond anything they've experienced in their personal dynamics. I imagine most readers won't be able to directly empathize with Leve's experiences, but it's certainly a memoir that may make you grateful for the environment you did grow up in, similar to reading The Glass Castle. If you have had a similar life, however, this memoir can be all that much more illuminating and gratifying, with the tendency to make you feel just slightly less crazy. My one regret over the outcome of An Abbreviated Life was that Leve only managed to gather the strength to walk away after she was 45 years old.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    because bat shit crazy mother.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sian Lile-Pastore

    I think Ive mentioned it before on goodreads - but if there is a memoir in which Andy Warhol comes to dinner - I am going to be reading that memoir. Less celeb appearances than I thought in this - But that's ok I just completely adore great written memoirs written by women set in bohemian New York. This is a memoir about Ariel's crazy mom, Ariel coming to terms with her privileged and yet deprived childhood and her eventual estrangement from her mom. It's an interesting and sometimes tough read I think Ive mentioned it before on goodreads - but if there is a memoir in which Andy Warhol comes to dinner - I am going to be reading that memoir. Less celeb appearances than I thought in this - But that's ok I just completely adore great written memoirs written by women set in bohemian New York. This is a memoir about Ariel's crazy mom, Ariel coming to terms with her privileged and yet deprived childhood and her eventual estrangement from her mom. It's an interesting and sometimes tough read and my sympathies were torn. Loved the style, loved how searching and thoughtful it was. Sometimes it seemed quite slight and I was less interested in her present day relationship with the hot Italian. (I made the hot bit up - he may not have been hot. But he does carpentry so probably is)

  15. 4 out of 5

    Dorotea

    The first time I heard the term gaslighting, I was in my late thirties. […] I’d never met that word before, but it wasn’t a stranger. Our paths had crossed. The encounter wasn’t a surprise. Our meeting was more like confirmation. Yes, I know you. There’s a name for that. There’s a term for that.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Wanda

    As I read this I found myself thinking the author's therapist must have suggested she 'write a letter' and this book was the result. A few lines from the opening paragraph of chapter 50 show what I mean, "Sometimes those stories free us. Sometimes they free others. When they are not told, they free no one." The stories Ariel Leve tells describe a stealthy sort of abuse that transcends the physical and includes many of the classic tactics used by narcissists. I hope writing this book was therapeu As I read this I found myself thinking the author's therapist must have suggested she 'write a letter' and this book was the result. A few lines from the opening paragraph of chapter 50 show what I mean, "Sometimes those stories free us. Sometimes they free others. When they are not told, they free no one." The stories Ariel Leve tells describe a stealthy sort of abuse that transcends the physical and includes many of the classic tactics used by narcissists. I hope writing this book was therapeutic for its author and will be illuminating for others. I received this book for free through Goodreads Giveaways.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Baggerman

    Since I'm on a memoir binge, I really wanted to love this one. But it felt more like a personal catharsis, less like a narrative. It was tough to really get invested in the story because it felt like the retelling wasn't fully fleshed out.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

    So close to home, it was both painful & revelatory.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Beth Bandy

    I started out enjoying the book however it just went on and on... and on and on..... <3 Martha Plimpton who read the book - she did an awesome job!

  20. 5 out of 5

    M. D. Hudson

    Ariel Leve's book "An Abbreviated Life" is an account of her calamitous upbringing by her mother, a glamorous quasi-famous poet and New York City scene-maker of the Sixties and Seventies with a lot of inherited money. These salons were eccentric and attended by the likes of Andy Warhol, Saul Bellow, Gloria Steinem, and Norman Mailer. Her mother held people spellbound with her beauty and charisma, Leve tells us. She was also, according to Leve, an atrociously bad mother. In Leve's book, Mom is re Ariel Leve's book "An Abbreviated Life" is an account of her calamitous upbringing by her mother, a glamorous quasi-famous poet and New York City scene-maker of the Sixties and Seventies with a lot of inherited money. These salons were eccentric and attended by the likes of Andy Warhol, Saul Bellow, Gloria Steinem, and Norman Mailer. Her mother held people spellbound with her beauty and charisma, Leve tells us. She was also, according to Leve, an atrociously bad mother. In Leve's book, Mom is referred to as Suzanne, but it is generally known that her mother's real name is Sandra Hochman, winner of the 1963 Yale Younger Poets prize, playwright, and filmmaker (determining her mother's real name will take about a minute's time searching the Internet - a "People" magazine profile of Hochman from 1976 - easily found via Google - pretty much tells you all you need to know - ex-husband Harvey Leve and daughter Ariel are mentioned). Leve's upbringing does indeed make for a harrowing story - many of reviewers are quoting her mother's reenactment of Leve's birth - Leve would be compelled, age 7 or so, to crouch between Mommy's naked thighs, pretending to emerge from the womb while Mommy groans and pants, recreating, as she put it, "the happiest day of my life." There's scads of other awful stuff too - Hochman bragging to her 10-year-old daughter about the size of her boyfriend's schwantz. Or those times Leve felt compelled to leave notes for Mom before school visits, begging her not to say the word "cocksucker" in front of her classmates. Mom also neglected basic personal hygiene, regularly soiling herself, claiming bladder issues, but apparently because she just couldn't bear to get off the phone or out of bed. Leve as a mortified little girl would insist on brushing Mom's ratty hair before she left the apartment while hoping she remembered to put on a bra. Hochman (aka Suzanne) is probably diagnosable - I'm guessing she's bipolar and suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. But if crazy, she was high-functioning crazy, with all those books and poems and a documentary film to her credit. Socially a narcissist can function pretty normally, and although it is hard to determine through the haze just how "cultural" her salons were (I wish Tom Wolfe had written one up), she did attract some impressive guests. For what that's worth. Leve recounts this catalogue of horrors graphically, yet with admirable restraint. However, there are strange discrepancies here and there. For one thing, although Leve presents herself as being cautious, hyper-vigilant, and emotionally remote, throughout the book scenes from her childhood show her as being outspoken and a troublemaker. For instance, she regularly got up on school nights to stand athwart one of her mother's noisy parties and shout out for everybody to shut up and go home. That she did this more than once shows that to she was allowed to show her emotions and to act out in ways that would have been unimaginable to me in my childhood. Throughout the book Leve was encouraged (if inconsistently so) to "be her self" by her Mom, who subscribed to all the self-indulgent artists rhetoric that has made so many artists, good or not, intolerable to be around since Shelley, Byron, and Poe. However free and easy she could be at times, it was mostly rhetoric, and Mom's tolerance for her daughter's freedom of expression and action was dependent on Mom's whims; Leve's feelings, needs, and very terms of her existence were also contingent upon these whims. As Leve notes "It was compulsory to assuage her fears...If I had a different opinion or a different feeling, she felt threatened. Not giving her what she wanted provoked her wrath..." (p. 158). And there are plenty examples of this as well. Leve limns her sometimes horrific childhood without descending into self-pity or bathos. There are several scenarios in Leve's book that are not necessarily abusive, but provide insight into just how off-kilter her mother was morally. For instance, despite all her money, Hochman was a casual thief. Leve reports that Hochman would routinely steal umbrellas and newspapers from fellow-tenants. The doorman had to chase her down to return the lobby flower arrangement she filched. She screwed over dry-cleaners and furriers by "paying" for goods and services with phony promises of ads or "points" in a musical she never got around to writing. She'd go to funerals for people she didn't know if she thought important people were going to be there, then proceed to network (or hustle) the bereaved (pp. 192-194). In some ways these things were more disturbing than the profanity and temper tantrums, because they are evidence of some moral dark hole at the center of her character, poetry's equivalent of Bernie Madoff. Given her exposure to this, Leve could have become such a low-grade monster herself. Rather, Leve was the anxious little girl fretting over Mom's behavior: "I knew lying was wrong, stealing was wrong, and fabricating stories was wrong. Yet when I called her attention to this, I was told I was too serious. If I scolded her, she would scold me back. No bringing up mommy." (pp. 194-195) Although one of her lesser transgressions, this incident underscores Hochman's baffling behavior: On my thirteenth birthday my mother hands me a hardcover copy of "Humboldt's Gift" by Saul Bellow. The novel is about the life of the poet Delmore Schwartz, who she knew. She wants me to read Humboldt's Gift because it's crucial, and she talks about Saul Bellow. She respects him and holds him in high regard. When I open the book there is an inscription: "Dear Ariel, your mother is one of the greatest poets of our time!" It is signed: Saul Bellow. It's in her handwriting. "You wrote that," I say. She giggles in her childlike way. "So what? He thought it." (pp. 147-148) Some readers might giggle along with Hochman - what harm in such a prank? But I see this as creepily and narcissistically delusional, further evidence proving how basically unreliable Hochman is as a human being. At the very least, it was a lousy birthday gift for a 13-year-old. Another thing to note in this passage is the rather mediocre quality of Leve's prose - in a way I admired the flat, no nonsense recounting of these events, and the way many of them have little grim punch lines that Leve has the good taste not to drive into the ground. But this is both awkward and banal: "She wants me to read "Humboldt's Gift" because it's crucial, and she talks about Saul Bellow. She respects him and holds him in high regard." Passages of this sort dull the book, giving it a flatness that has more to do with plodding composition rather than emotional tone. *** But there is all that money. Leve's is a candid book, but she can be a bit dodgy about money. To some extent it may be because she doesn't really understand money, although I am not sure how she possibly could, having never really been without it - poverty being the best way to understand money. There's a lot of money here - 3rd generation NYC money. It is difficult to tell just how much money is around - checks get bounced and tradesmen angered in Leve's book, but this seems to happen in a rich person's scatter-brained way rather than because of truly straitened circumstances. At one point a Ferrari is purchased (with proceeds from one of Hochman's screenplays, to be fair). There's enough money so that Hochman, as Leve points out, never paid a bill, did her own taxes, driven a car, shopped for groceries (they were delivered) or in any other ways dealt with mundane tasks most of us are forced to do. "Don't be a bourgeois!" she admonishes her daughter. No danger of that happening - Leve as an adult seems to have enough free money to remain pretty insulated from poverty's many woes - she is a journalist, a successful one in London for ten years (she tells us), and yet even there the family money wings its way across the Atlantic, described in this passage somewhat coyly: "I promised to call my mother one a week from London, which I did from a pay phone. I called her collect because she insisted the phone call happen. I was indentured. The money confused me. I accepted help because I needed it. It was a gift, she said. But I knew better. There was no such thing. "I have always been supportive of your dreams and put my money where my mount is.: Reinforcement of the idea that I owed her. And I knew that the expectations would be there no matter what. I was weak." (p. 233) This indentured servitude took place when she was purportedly making it on her own in London as a professional journalist. When her London contract isn't renewed, I think (the book is not entirely clear on this point) it's back to NYC with mom and the apartment and the money, age 44. Not that this can't happen to any of us - but when the strain of Mom gets to be too much she goes to see dad who is living by now in...Bali! No mention is made of how life in Bali is funded, and from online interviews and profiles I've seen, it appears that Leve still has a NYC apartment and as far as I can tell she is unemployed. So yes, there are aspects of the Poor Little Rich Girl here - though I am thoroughly convinced that Leve had a rotten time of it. And I am also convinced, as she claims, that she came away from it damaged - I believe, as she does, the "altered brain" approach to trauma (though the "flashing light" therapy she believes in sounds like 21st Century phrenology to me). But, unless actual homicide is involved, immediate, catastrophic damage is always mitigated by money. An unstable, crazy Mom and an absent Dad becomes far more fraught when there isn't a platoon of hired help. Leve's nanny Josie (and a host of others, who quit or were fired by Hochman) as well as the nanny Dad hired in Bangkok (Tootie, a Dutch woman) all did a lot to insulate Leve from full-fledged disaster. Leve mentions seventeen (or so) years of therapy and really good schools and staying with Dad in Thailand every summer - she'd been around the world three times by the time she was nine. A girl living in downstate Illinois trailer park is going to suffer from having an unstable "narcissistic Mom" with a far greater degree of vulnerability. For such a kid even having her own room might be an unimaginable nirvana. Smoking cigarettes behind the 7-11 at 12 and pregnant at 16 is a pretty typical trajectory for such kids. But rich people...well rich Mums and Dads fuck up their kids differently ours did, to paraphrase Philip Larkin and Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In many places "An Abbreviated Life" put me in mind of Edward St. Aubyn and his no-this-is-not-autobiographical "Melrose Novels" - no matter how bad it gets, there's never any danger of actually winding up on the street. A rich maternal grandmother pops up like Hamlet's ghost throughout Leve's memoir, sending out, I'd guess, boluses of family money. Crawling into bed with the stern but sympathetic nanny is not the worst option to have when Mommy's party with Andy Warhol gets too noisy on a school night. *** A central puzzle in Leve's account is the role of her father. He left the family when Leve was five and went to Asia, where he was a lawyer in Bangkok. Leve visited him for three months every summer, a wonderful time for her, she reports, a time of "sunshine and white sand." Dad was loving, attentive, and wrote her beautiful letters when she was back in NYC. Furthermore, Dad was very much aware of Mom's haphazard if not lunatic approach to motherhood, via detailed letters written by one of his ex-girlfriends, Rita (New Yorkers are different than you and I, even when they live in Bangkok; Rita's letters are quoted extensively as an independent source for Leve's memories of her mother's behavior). Leve defends his inability to take custody because of child custody laws of the time, and I suspect she is right about this. But in 1977 he did make a move to gain custody and the episode is most peculiar. The instant Hochman got wind of this, she immediately flew to Thailand (with her tennis pro, paid to be her lackey and travel companion). In Bangkok she confronts Leve (age 10) was in bed, sick with a high fever. After making all the usual scenes and with the usual screeching and drama, Hochman whisks her sick daughter away, making it clear that she was lawyering up as well. But here's the shocking thing, revealed by Leve in a roundabout way: Dad wasn't actually in Bangkok when Hochman showed up. When Leve later questioned him about this, he was vague - he had been ill (hepatitis and a nervous breakdown of some sort), and, astonishingly, was being treated somewhere back in the United States! Which means until her Mom arrived, Leve was alone in Bangkok - alone with paid help, of course. But still. Dad funked it, or, as he puts it "At that time I was not well. Not managing." (p. 160). Leve supplies the rest: "When my mother reclaimed me from Bangkok it was a traumatic time for him, but that's as far as it goes. There is a blackout- emotional amnesia for any negative memory. It's how he coped. The pain and the stress and the strain have been deleted. As if it didn't occur. He remembers uncomplicated, joyful times; sunshine and white sand. The darkness of this memory is mine alone." (p. 161). Isn't this heartbreaking? It turns out that Leve's parents were both unreliable narrators and she had the misfortune to figure it out and fill in her own gaps. How much easier to have a "blackout - emotional amnesia for any negative memory." There are some touching scenes at the end of the book in which her father's declining health is described, and his plight as an octogenarian needing western medical care in a third-world country. Isolation, self-pity, and a self-exculpating deteriorating long-term memory characterize his declining years. In some ways, the relationship with the father is one of the saddest parts of the book: "It was," he says, "the hardest decision I ever had to make." He is speaking about why he left New York and moved to Thailand when I was five. It was a painful decision but a decision he does not regret. He could not have survived in New York. He had to be true to himself so that he could be available to me. There are people who cannot withstand conflict and trauma or manage strife. he didn't' know what he was getting into. My mother was too powerful. He had to retreat. There was no alternative; he had to disengage. There is no one who identifies with this better than I do. I compensated for the absence of his presence with understanding. He was protecting himself. he had no choice but to leave and I had no choice but to assimilate. I never felt abandoned. "I wouldn't be her today and we wouldn't have the relationship we have," he says. He is not a dramatic man. "I would not have survived." I take his hand and non. "I know." "We are a team," he says, with watery eyes. "We are a team." (pp. 250-251) I don't know what is sadder here, Leve's convoluted efforts to excuse her Father's abandonment, or her father's geriatric, teary efforts to defend his decision to abandon his daughter. Leve goes along with it, but what choice does she have? Without "Team Dad" she has nothing. And nothing is intolerable. But it wasn't really a team, was it? (Awkward Prose Note: "the absence of his presence" could've just been "his absence" - where have all the editors gone?). Hochman could claim she was the better parent because, unlike Dad, she was always "there." Mom would have a point. And although there were typically nutty efforts to interfere with Leve's relationship with her dad, such as listening into phone conversations, there was never any real effort to prevent Leve from spending her summer vacations with him, or spend time with him when he was stateside. Some of Leve's complaints are less valid than others. For instance, she had to play very quietly when mother was working - the electronically noisy board game Operation caused some strife - but a parent who works at home needing the kids to play quietly does not, I think, constitute abuse. But mostly Leve's accusations of neglect and random acts of abandonment are vivid - Hochman would frequently not come home if a party or hook up got interesting enough, she'd miss school plays, forget to pick her up somewhere, etc. But Leve is not especially consistent in her accusations, so to some extent Mom was damned if she did and damned if she didn't. When Mom was home, with the noisy parties and the filth and the self-inflicted bouts of incontinence and casual nudity and birthing reenactments and profanity and graphic descriptions of a boyfriend's equipage, Leve was in a perpetual state of fear, misery, disgust, and uncertainty. But when Mom missed dinner or failed to tuck her in, Leve complains about that too. Well, kids are funny that way - no matter how awful they are, they crave having their parents around. Abandonment is the ultimate terror. A very human inconsistency to be sure, but an inconsistency nonetheless. But Hochman, for all her terrible flaws (disabilities?), never actually abandoned her daughter. *** Leve is not an exhibitionist, and she tells even the most grotesque tales (the birthing reenactments) in a fashion that sometimes borders on remoteness. Her dismay at her mother's awfulness is sometimes tempered with real sympathy. Leve never whines. Perhaps the best, certainly the spookiest parts of the book are when Leve gives us glimpses of how she engages with the world - without a trace of self-pity and an almost clinical manner, she describes the physical objects in her apartment as omens of a bleak and pointless future (p. 211), and a strange incident diving with her boyfriend when she almost drowns heedlessly and his bafflement at her weird passivity (pp. 255-256). Her disassociation and tendency to helplessly zero-out in stressful situations make a harrowing case for the damage she is suffered. These were more effective conveying damage than her earnest chats with the flashing-light therapist, I thought. The childhood and young adulthood calamities are punctuated by scenes from Leve's current life. She lives in Bali with a dive/windsurfing instructor named Mario, originally from Italy, and his twin daughters. The bleakness of this book is considerably alleviated by the fact that Leve has found a loving romantic relationship and her capacity - utterly surprising to herself - for being a good step-mother. I hope things work out. Mario appears to be a kind of Natural Man of the sort I am always a bit suspicious of - or rather, intimidated by. They are at one with nature, but with a cell phone, and twins from a "previous relationship" and a compelling disdain for talking too much. At one point he locks himself in a hut to brood, while Leve convinces herself that this is okay (p. 216). Maybe it is. But these Mr. Natural types seem to be pretty good at this sort of thing, justifying their shifting moods and urges because, well, it's all natural, right? But Mario is comfortable in his own skin (a rare type, in my experience) and that alone seems to be doing Leve a lot of good. I hope it all works out for them.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kari O'driscoll

    This memoir reads as an angry missive from someone who wants revenge on her mother. While I don't dispute her right to feel the way she feels, her mother comes off as a one-sided, narcissistic person while she paints herself as the victim over and over again. Left me feeling dirty and sad.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Anna Luke

    interesting, but a little too "this is my journal for personal therapy" for me

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Obsesses over Books & Cookies

    An account of how having a wickedly narcissistic mother can leave one so utterly traumatized. I read it just wanting to smack the mother- tell her to grow the fuck up, don't you see how your moods and needs and projections of how you feel about yourself placing your entire burden on your kid is going to mess them up for life? I wanted the author to stand up for herself for real, for good and was disappointed that she didn't. My mother passed in 2013 and was also narcissistic but I was protected An account of how having a wickedly narcissistic mother can leave one so utterly traumatized. I read it just wanting to smack the mother- tell her to grow the fuck up, don't you see how your moods and needs and projections of how you feel about yourself placing your entire burden on your kid is going to mess them up for life? I wanted the author to stand up for herself for real, for good and was disappointed that she didn't. My mother passed in 2013 and was also narcissistic but I was protected from her mostly and the aftermath is a deep void but also a layer of indifference. I feel for Ariel and all the kids with ridiculous parents.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Booktart

    There are a lot of memoirs out there these days, some where you can't help but think, "did this have to be written?" An Abbreviated Life is not one of those. In addition to being beautifully written, this memoir is a valuable account of the author's experience having both a physically and emotionally abusive mother and its effect on her ability to form relationships and to function as an adult. I couldn't help but think of Alice Miller's Drama of the Gifted Child as I read this. I also couldn't There are a lot of memoirs out there these days, some where you can't help but think, "did this have to be written?" An Abbreviated Life is not one of those. In addition to being beautifully written, this memoir is a valuable account of the author's experience having both a physically and emotionally abusive mother and its effect on her ability to form relationships and to function as an adult. I couldn't help but think of Alice Miller's Drama of the Gifted Child as I read this. I also couldn't help but relate to Leve's account of feeling responsible for her mother's happiness and for her moods and thus not knowing her own wants and desires. Although this is an incredibly painful and heartbreaking read, the author's story of her healthy and loving relationship with her partner's two daughters offers hope it is possible to heal from these experiences and to not repeat them.

  25. 4 out of 5

    April

    Anyone with a narcissistic/abusive parent will relate (my MIL & FIL for the record, not mine) to this story of how childhood abuse and neglect can fuck you up for life. Overall there was a tone of resilience and her intelligence was surely something the helped her. Some beautiful lines about water during her Bali period. Really makes you feel for the kids in similar situations who don't get a chance to tell their story or explain how they are brain damaged by a parent.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Brutal, compelling memoir--a terrifying account of being parented by someone who does not know how to be a parent. I read it in one sitting. I could not put it down.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    "To cope, in childhood, was to be on guard at all times. Sentiment was not to be trusted. Hope would be met with disappointment. This was an operating system that allowed me to function, and it carried over into adulthood. The result was to live a life within brackets. An abbreviated life." The language of this memoir is spare but impactful. There is lots of breath around the words. The space is necessary to digest and take it all in. There are a lot of revelations. This is the story of a life "To cope, in childhood, was to be on guard at all times. Sentiment was not to be trusted. Hope would be met with disappointment. This was an operating system that allowed me to function, and it carried over into adulthood. The result was to live a life within brackets. An abbreviated life." The language of this memoir is spare but impactful. There is lots of breath around the words. The space is necessary to digest and take it all in. There are a lot of revelations. This is the story of a life that was disheveled, unreliable, chaotic, erratic. This is the author's search for reprieve. Ariel Leve grew up under the reign of an imbalanced mother. Abandoned herself at age seven (literally left behind at boarding school), her mother was in a state of arrested development. After a brief marriage, Ariel's father moved to Thailand when she was a young girl. While they remained in touch and very close via regular letters and visits with him over summer breaks, for the majority of her childhood, Ariel was forced into the role of the mother figure (it was she who would be screaming for everyone to stop the constant partying past midnight so she could get some sleep on a school night) while her mother was the child - selfish, blameful and churlish. Her mother was a successful poet and they lived in a penthouse apartment on the Upper West Side. The address was mentioned so many times throughout the book that I googled it. Looking at the exterior of 180 E 79th Street in New York, you see a typical Manhattan apartment building. It's located in an affluent area, there's a doorman, it's a prime piece of real estate. However, if you just look at the facade, you don't get the whole story. You hear penthouse apartment, you think rich. You hear private school, you know there's privilege. You discover her mother was a poet, you think fantastically eccentric. And while it's true that Ariel grew up with all of these outward advantages, her life is concrete proof of the old adage that money doesn't buy happiness. According to her mother, she was given the best of everything and therefore she should be forever indebted to her for providing them. She was expected to feel grateful and beholden to her simply because she hadn't been abandoned like her mother even though she was given nothing in terms of appropriate attention or emotions in return. Yes, Ariel had every material want at her fingertips, but the only thing she truly longed for was time alone with her mother. She wanted her undivided attention. She wanted routine and convention and unconditional love. All she wanted was a normal life. Instead, her mother was controlling, manipulative and overbearing to everyone around her. She could convince anyone of anything and turned every situation and relationship to her own advantage until one by one, they would figure out her ulterior motives and disappear. She truly thought only of herself and her own needs, never once considering how her behaviour was affecting others. She was lost in her own mixed up world and her jumbled mind. Whether or not she was actually conscious of her behaviour and just didn't care or if she was so mentally ill that she didn't know right from wrong, it was Ariel that bore the worst brunt of her behaviour. While she thought she was smothering Ariel with motherly love, she was in fact just smothering her. Ariel was so manipulated as a child that as an adult, she is working her way through her life, trying to pick up the pieces of her fractured childhood to build a cohesive, calm existence. She literally moves to the other side of the world to Bali in order to extract herself from her mother's neediness. It's a move of desperation, but the only solution she can find. The current life Ariel Leve has created for herself is the exact inverse of her childhood. Her life in Bali is stripped down to the bare basics. Her peaceful home is minimalist and only holds the essentials. She has chosen a partner who is quiet, thoughtful and caring. She provides stability, attention and love to their young twin daughters. She becomes the calm, attentive mother she so desperately needed herself. It's by practicing the exact opposite of everything her life was composed of that she finally finds her peace.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Simon Sweetman

    A beautifully written, candid memoir of a childhood lost - emotional abuse, neglect, madness...Ariel Leve's mother was a famous poet with a 'rock-star' life of socialites and celebrities - but she wasn't capable (or interested) in raising a child and her neediness is debilitating for all that enter her sphere. Here, Leve, a grown woman and talented writer, takes stock, looks back on the parts of her life that were lost, cut short; abbreviated. It's a new version of Mommy Dearest told in measured A beautifully written, candid memoir of a childhood lost - emotional abuse, neglect, madness...Ariel Leve's mother was a famous poet with a 'rock-star' life of socialites and celebrities - but she wasn't capable (or interested) in raising a child and her neediness is debilitating for all that enter her sphere. Here, Leve, a grown woman and talented writer, takes stock, looks back on the parts of her life that were lost, cut short; abbreviated. It's a new version of Mommy Dearest told in measured, perfectly controlled prose-poem/vignettes.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sherri

    I usually like memoirs but this one felt rather self indulgent to me. I understand why the author wrote it; I'm sure it was therapeutic, cathartic. Clearly her mother did a horrible job of parenting, but I got tired of hearing the same thing over and over, interspersed with how much better a parent Ariel herself is.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lynn Weber

    This was a really good and unusual memoir. You can feel the author's distress at the possibility of not being believed, and how hard it's been to grow out of the emotional habits she accrued as a child.

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