Chapter 1 Choose the Good My strongest memory is not a memory. It's something I imagined, then came to remember as if it had happened. The memory was formed when I was five, just before I turned six, from a story my father told in such detail that I and my brothers and sister had each conjured our own cinematic version, with gunfire and shouts. Mine had crickets. That's the sound I hear as my family huddles in the kitchen, lights off, hiding from the Feds who've surrounded the house. A woman reaches for a glass of water and her silhouette is lighted by the moon. A shot echoes like the lash of a whip and she falls. In my memory it's always Mother who falls, and she has a baby in her arms. The baby doesn't make sense--I'm the youngest of my mother's seven children--but like I said, none of this happened. A year after my father told us that story, we gathered one evening to hear him read aloud from Isaiah, a prophecy about Immanuel. He sat on our mustard-colored sofa, a large Bible open in his lap. Mother was next to him. The rest of us were strewn across the shaggy brown carpet. "Butter and honey shall he eat," Dad droned, low and monotone, weary from a long day hauling scrap. "That he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good." There was a heavy pause. We sat quietly. My father was not a tall man but he was able to command a room. He had a presence about him, the solemnity of an oracle. His hands were thick and leathery--the hands of a man who'd been hard at work all his life--and they grasped the Bible firmly. He read the passage aloud a second time, then a third, then a fourth. With each repetition the pitch of his voice climbed higher. His eyes, which moments before had been swollen with fatigue, were now wide and alert. There was a divine doctrine here, he said. He would inquire of the Lord. The next morning Dad purged our fridge of milk, yogurt and cheese, and that evening when he came home, his truck was loaded with fifty gallons of honey. "Isaiah doesn't say which is evil, butter or honey," Dad said, grinning as my brothers lugged the white tubs to the basement. "But if you ask, the Lord will tell you!" When Dad read the verse to his mother, she laughed in his face. "I got some pennies in my purse," she said. "You better take them. They'll be all the sense you got." Grandma had a thin, angular face and an endless store of faux Indian jewelry, all silver and turquoise, which hung in clumps from her spindly neck and fingers. Because she lived down the hill from us, near the highway, we called her Grandma-down-the-hill. This was to distinguish her from our mother's mother, who we called Grandma-over-in-town because she lived fifteen miles south, in the only town in the county, which had a single stoplight and a grocery store. Dad and his mother got along like two cats with their tails tied together. They could talk for a week and not agree about anything, but they were tethered by their devotion to the mountain. My father's family had been living at the base of Buck Peak for a century. Grandma's daughters had married and moved away, but my father stayed, building a shabby yellow house, which he would never quite finish, just up the hill from his mother's, at the base of the mountain, and plunking a junkyard--one of several--next to her manicured lawn. They argued daily, about the mess from the junkyard but more often about us kids. Grandma thought we should be in school and not, as she put it, "roaming the mountain like savages." Dad said public school was a ploy by the Government to lead children away from God. "I may as well surrender my kids to the devil himself," he said, "as send them down the road to that school." God told Dad to share the revelation with the people who lived and farmed in the shadow of Buck Peak. On Sundays, nearly everyone gathered at the church, a hickory-colored chapel just off the highway with the small, restrained steeple common to Mormon churches. Dad cornered fathers as they left their pews. He started with his cousin Jim, who listened good-naturedly while Dad waved his Bible and explained the sinfulness of milk. Jim grinned, then clapped Dad on the shoulder and said no righteous God would deprive a man of homemade strawberry ice cream on a hot summer afternoon. Jim's wife tugged on his arm. As he slid past us I caught a whiff of manure. Then I remembered: the big dairy farm a mile north of Buck Peak, that was Jim's. After Dad took up preaching against milk, Grandma jammed her fridge full of it. She and Grandpa only drank skim but pretty soon it was all there--two percent, whole, even chocolate. She seemed to believe this was an important line to hold. Breakfast became a test of loyalty. Every morning, my family sat around a large square table and ate either seven-grain cereal, with honey and molasses, or seven-grain pancakes, also with honey and molasses. Because there were nine of us, the pancakes were never cooked all the way through. I didn't mind the cereal if I could soak it in milk, letting the cream gather up the grist and seep into the pellets, but since the revelation we'd been having it with water. It was like eating a bowl of mud. It wasn't long before I began to think of all that milk spoiling in Grandma's fridge. Then I got into the habit of skipping breakfast each morning and going straight to the barn. I'd slop the pigs and fill the trough for the cows and horses, then I'd hop over the corral fence, loop around the barn and step through Grandma's side door. On one such morning, as I sat at the counter watching Grandma pour a bowl of cornflakes, she said, "How would you like to go to school?" "I wouldn't like it," I said. "How do you know," she barked. "You ain't never tried it." She poured the milk and handed me the bowl, then she perched at the bar, directly across from me, and watched as I shoveled spoonfuls into my mouth. "We're leaving tomorrow for Arizona," she told me, but I already knew. She and Grandpa always went to Arizona when the weather began to turn. Grandpa said he was too old for Idaho winters; the cold put an ache in his bones. "Get yourself up real early," Grandma said, "around five, and we'll take you with us. Put you in school." I shifted on my stool. I tried to imagine school but couldn't. Instead I pictured Sunday school, which I attended each week and which I hated. A boy named Aaron had told all the girls that I couldn't read because I didn't go to school, and now none of them would talk to me. "Dad said I can go?" I said. "No," Grandma said. "But we'll be long gone by the time he realizes you're missing." She sat my bowl in the sink and gazed out the window. Grandma was a force of nature--impatient, aggressive, self-possessed. To look at her was to take a step back. She dyed her hair black and this intensified her already severe features, especially her eyebrows, which she smeared on each morning in thick, inky arches. She drew them too large and this made her face seem stretched. They were also drawn too high and draped the rest of her features into an expression of boredom, almost sarcasm. "You should be in school," she said. "Won't Dad just make you bring me back?" I said. "Your dad can't make me do a damned thing." Grandma stood, squaring herself. "If he wants you, he'll have to come get you." She hesitated, and for a moment looked ashamed. "I talked to him yesterday. He won't be able to fetch you back for a long while. He's behind on that shed he's building in town. He can't pack up and drive to Arizona, not while the weather holds and he and the boys can work long days." Grandma's scheme was well plotted. Dad always worked from sunup until sundown in the weeks before the first snow, trying to stockpile enough money from hauling scrap and building barns to outlast the winter, when jobs were scarce. Even if his mother ran off with his youngest child, he wouldn't be able to stop working, not until the forklift was encased in ice. "I'll need to feed the animals before we go," I said. "He'll notice I'm gone for sure if the cows break through the fence looking for water." I didn't sleep that night. I sat on the kitchen floor and watched the hours tick by. One a.m. Two. Three. At four I stood and put my boots by the back door. They were caked in manure, and I was sure Grandma wouldn't let them into her car. I pictured them on her porch, abandoned, while I ran off shoeless to Arizona. I imagined what would happen when my family discovered I was missing. My brother Richard and I often spent whole days on the mountain, so it was likely no one would notice until sundown, when Richard came home for dinner and I didn't. I pictured my brothers pushing out the door to search for me. They'd try the junkyard first, hefting iron slabs in case some stray sheet of metal had shifted and pinned me. Then they'd move outward, sweeping the farm, crawling up trees and into the barn attic. Finally, they'd turn to the mountain. It would be past dusk by then--that moment just before night sets in, when the landscape is visible only as darkness and lighter darkness, and you feel the world around you more than you see it. I imagined my brothers spreading over the mountain, searching the black forests. No one would talk; everyone's thoughts would be the same. Things could go horribly wrong on the mountain. Cliffs appeared suddenly. Feral horses, belonging to my grandfather, ran wild over thick banks of water hemlock, and there were more than a few rattlesnakes. We'd done this search before when a calf went missing from the barn. In the valley you'd find an injured animal; on the mountain, a dead one. I imagined Mother standing by the back door, her eyes sweeping the dark ridge, when my father came home to tell her they hadn't found me. My sister, Audrey, would suggest that someone ask Grandma, and Mother would say Grandma had left that morning for Arizona. Those words would hang in the air for a moment, then everyone would know where I'd gone. I imagined my father's face, his dark eyes shrinking, his mouth clamping into a frown as he turned to my mother. "You think she chose to go?" Low and sorrowful, his voice echoed. Then it was drowned out by echoes from another conjured remembrance--crickets, then gunfire, then silence. The event was a famous one, I would later learn--like Wounded Knee or Waco--but when my father first told us the story, it felt like no one in the world knew about it except us. It began near the end of canning season, which other kids probably called "summer." My family always spent the warm months bottling fruit for storage, which Dad said we'd need in the Days of Abomination. One evening, Dad was uneasy when he came in from the junkyard. He paced the kitchen during dinner, hardly touching a bite. We had to get everything in order, he said. There was little time. We spent the next day boiling and skinning peaches. By sundown we'd filled dozens of Mason jars, which were set out in perfect rows, still warm from the pressure cooker. Dad surveyed our work, counting the jars and muttering to himself, then he turned to Mother and said, "It's not enough." That night Dad called a family meeting, and we gathered around the kitchen table, because it was wide and long, and could seat all of us. We had a right to know what we were up against, he said. He was standing at the head of the table; the rest of us perched on benches, studying the thick planks of red oak. "There's a family not far from here," Dad said. "They're freedom fighters. They wouldn't let the Government brainwash their kids in them public schools, so the Feds came after them." Dad exhaled, long and slow. "The Feds surrounded the family's cabin, kept them locked in there for weeks, and when a hungry child, a little boy, snuck out to go hunting, the Feds shot him dead." I scanned my brothers. I'd never seen fear on Luke's face before. "They're still in the cabin," Dad said. "They keep the lights off, and they crawl on the floor, away from the doors and windows. I don't know how much food they got. Might be they'll starve before the Feds give up." No one spoke. Eventually Luke, who was twelve, asked if we could help. "No," Dad said. "Nobody can. They're trapped in their own home. But they got their guns, you can bet that's why the Feds ain't charged in." He paused to sit, folding himself onto the low bench in slow, stiff movements. He looked old to my eyes, worn out. "We can't help them, but we can help ourselves. When the Feds come to Buck Peak, we'll be ready." That night, Dad dragged a pile of old army bags up from the basement. He said they were our "head for the hills" bags. We spent that night packing them with supplies--herbal medicines, water purifiers, flint and steel. Dad had bought a truckload of military MREs--Meals Ready-to-Eat--and we put as many as we could fit into our packs, imagining the moment when, having fled the house and hiding ourselves in the wild plum trees near the creek, we'd eat them. Some of my brothers stowed guns in their packs but I had only a small knife, and even so my pack was as big as me by the time we'd finished. I asked Luke to hoist it onto a shelf in my closet, but Dad told me to keep it low, where I could fetch it quick, so I slept with it in my bed. I practiced slipping the bag onto my back and running with it-- I didn't want to be left behind. I imagined our escape, a midnight flight to the safety of the Princess. The mountain, I understood, was our ally. To those who knew her she could be kind, but to intruders she was pure treachery, and this would give us an advantage. Then again, if we were going to take cover on the mountain when the Feds came, I didn't understand why we were canning all these peaches. We couldn't haul a thousand heavy Mason jars up the peak. Or did we need the peaches so we could bunker down in the house, like the Weavers, and fight it out? Excerpted from Educated: A Memoir All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
New York Times Review
|In "Asymmetry," two seemingly unrelated sections are connected by a shocking coda. The first, "Folly," is the story of a love affair. It narrates the relationship between Alice, a book editor and aspiring writer in her mid-20s, and Ezra Blazer, a brilliant, geriatric novelist who is partly modeled on Philip Roth. The second section - "Madness" - belongs to Amar Jaafari, an Iraqi- American economist who is being detained at Heathrow. Halliday's prose is clean and lean, almost reportorial in the style of W. G. Sebald. This is a first novel that reads like the work of an author who has published many books over many years, and it manages to be, all at once, a transgressive roman à clef, a novel of ideas and a politically engaged work of metafiction. THE GREAT BELIEVERS By Rebecca Makkai Viking. $27. Set in the Chicago of the mid-80s and Paris at the time of the 2015 terrorist attacks, Makkai's deeply affecting novel uses the AIDS epidemic and a mother's search for her estranged daughter to explore the effects of senseless loss and our efforts to overcome it. Her portrait of a group of friends, most of them gay men, conveys the terrors and tragedies of the epidemic's early years and follows its repercussions over decades. Empathetic without being sentimental, her novel amply earned its place among the contenders for the Booker Prize and the National Book Award. THE PERFECT NANNY By Leila Slimani Translated by Sam Taylor Penguin Books. Paper, $16. We know from the outset of this unnerving cautionary tale (winner of the Goncourt Prize) that a beloved nanny has murdered the two children in her care; but what's even more remarkable about this unconventional domestic thriller is the author's intimate analysis of the special relationship between a mother and the person she hires to care for her offspring. Slimani writes devastating character studies, and she also raises painful themes: the forbidden desires parents project onto their nannies, racial and class tensions. In this mesmerizingly twisted novel, only one thing is clear: Loneliness can drive you crazy. THERE THERE By Tommy Orange Alfred A. Knopf. $25.95. Orange's debut is an ambitious meditation on identity and its broken alternatives, on myth filtered through the lens of time and poverty and urban life. Its many short chapters are told through a loosely connected group of Native Americans living in Oakland, Calif., as they travel to a powwow. They are all, as in Chaucer, pilgrims on their way to a shrine, or, as in Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying," an extended family crossing the landscape. The novel is their picaresque journey, allowing for moments of pure soaring beauty to hit against the most mundane, for a sense of timelessness to be placed right beside a cleareyed version of the here and now. WASHINGTON BLACK By Esi Edugyan Alfred A. Knopf. $26.95. This transcendent work of empathy and imagination, the 2018 winner of Canada's prestigious Giller Prize, opens on a sugar plantation in British Barbados in the waning days of slavery and, against that backdrop of unconscionable brutality, quickly tips us into a new world of possibility: one in which men take to the skies in hot-air balloons, dive to mysterious ocean depths and cross the Arctic on foot. Most daringly, it is a world in which a white slave master's brother and a young black slave can forge an indelible bond. With subtlety and eloquence, Edugyan unfolds a wondrous tale of exploration and discovery. Nonfiction AMERICAN PRISON A Reporter's Undercover Journey Into the Business of Punishment By Shane Bauer Penguin Press. $28. Bauer moved to rural Louisiana in 2014 to work undercover as a guard at the Winn Correctional Center, a privately run prison. He lasted four months before his deception was discovered, but that turned out to be more than sufficient to write a searing exposé for Mother Jones, which earned him a National Magazine Award and an invitation to speak to officials in Washington about problems in for-profit prisons. With this book, Bauer has expanded his article into a comprehensive analysis impossible to ignore. His book is a meticulous catalog of horrors, from the historical precursors - the practice of convict-leasing at Southern prisons after the Civil War, in which inmates were rented out to companies as a captive work force - to the rampant violence, neglect and incompetence that pervade a multibillion-dollar industry. EDUCATED A Memoir By Tara Westover Random House. $28. Westover's extraordinary memoir is an act of courage and self-invention. The youngest of seven children, she grew up in Idaho, in a survivalist family who lived so far offthe grid that she lacked even a birth certificate and did not attend school until she went to college. Getting in wasn't obvious: At home, reading meant studying the Bible and the Book of Mormon, and much of her childhood was spent helping her mother, an unlicensed midwife, and her father, a paranoid man who maintained a scrapmetal junkyard. In recounting her upbringing and her triumph over it - she would earn a Ph.D. in history at Cambridge - Westover took great risks and alienated family members. The reward is a book that testifies to an irrepressible thirst to learn. FREDERICK DOUGLASS Prophet of Freedom By David W. Blight Simon & Schuster. $37.50. A monumental work about a monumental figure. The charismatic Douglass was Abraham Lincoln's conscience, so to speak, and Blight's detailed, cinematic biography is the result of a lifetime of engagement with his subject. Douglass wrote three autobiographies himself, describing his rise from slavery to a role as one of the greatest figures of the 19th century, but Blight's work is fuller than any of those, relating both the public and private life in a way that Douglass either could not or would not undertake. The result is a portrait that is likely to stand as the definitive account for years to come. HOW TO CHANGE YOUR MIND What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence By Michael Pollan Penguin Press. $28. Best known for his work on the ethics of eating, Pollan delivers his most personal book yet, one that demanded he drop acid in full view of the reader. Exploring the history and science of psychedelics, he tells of the rise and fall and rise again of our societal interest in these drugs, which are now thought to have many benefits, from helping with addiction to easing the terror of the terminally ill. The book hits its high point when he examines the mysticism and spirituality of the psychedelic experience. What can we learn about ourselves when the part of our mind controlling the ego drops away? What is this older, more primitive part of the brain, which connects us to how a child sees the world? It's a trip that leads him to wonder about how, ultimately, we can get the most out of our existences as conscious beings in the world. SMALL FRY By Lisa Brennan-Jobs Grove Press. $26. Brennan-Jobs grew up shuttling between two starkly different worlds: the bohemian, peripatetic world of her mother, an unstable and impoverished artist, and the luxurious world of her cruel and increasingly wealthy father, Steve Jobs. She provides indelible portraits of both parents, recreating the fraught landscape of her childhood in Palo Alto through the careful accretion of exquisitely granular detail. Her memoir is a work of uncanny intimacy, the debut of a singular literary sensibility. Ultimately, though, it is her portrayal of Jobs as a man prone to mind-boggling acts of emotional negligence and abuse that gives this book its overlay of devastation.|
Publishers Weekly Review
|Actor Whelan chooses a simple, straight reading of Westover's memoir about growing up in a dysfunctional, abusive fundamentalist family. It's a wise choice, partly because there are so many dramatic scenes throughout the book that it would exhaust the listener to have them dramatized, and partly because Westover portrays herself as a passive and compliant family member until the day she enters a classroom for the first time at the age of 17. Whelan creates an angry, gravelly voice for Westover's paranoid, fundamentalist Mormon father, a controlling and abusive man terrified of the influence of teachers and doctors. While preparing for the imminent end of the world, he homeschools his children and keeps them ignorant of all events outside their isolated Idaho home. Some family members are maimed by hideous accidents, and physical fights are common in the household. Still struggling with the ingrained need to be loyal to her family, Westover eventually attends college and earns a Ph.D. from Cambridge University. Whelan smoothly guides listeners through Westover's physical and emotional traumas as she powerfully conveys Westover's transform from "a wicked thing" to a scholar. A Random House hardcover. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.|
School Library Journal Review
|Raised in an alternative Mormon home in rural Idaho, Westover worked as an assistant midwife to her mother and labored in her father's junkyard. Formal schooling wasn't a priority, because her parents believed that public education was government indoctrination and that Westover's future role would be to support her husband. But her older brother's violence and their family's refusal to acknowledge problems at home resulted in the teen contemplating escape through education. Admittance to Brigham Young University was difficult. Westover taught herself enough to receive a decent score on the ACT, but because of her upbringing, she didn't understand rudimentary concepts of sanitation and etiquette, and her learning curve was steep. However, she eventually thrived, earning scholarships to Harvard and Cambridge-though she grappled with whether to include her toxic family in her new life. Born in 1986, Westover interviewed family members to help her write the first half. Her well-crafted account of her early years will intrigue teens, but the memoir's second part, covering her undergraduate and graduate experiences in the "real world," will stun them. VERDICT A gripping, intimate, sometimes shocking, yet ultimately inspiring work. Perfect for fans of memoirs about overcoming traumatic childhoods or escaping from fundamentalist religious communities, such as Jeannette Walls's The Glass Castle and Ruth Wariner's The Sound of Gravel.-Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.|