KIRKUS REVIEW

OPTIMAL DISTANCE  A Divided Life, Part One
by Joan Carol Lieberman

A debut coming-of-age autobiography chronicles personal ancestry and familial struggle.

In the first of author and speechwriter Lieberman’s two-part history—a massively researched endeavor 18 years in the making—she unveils the genesis of her family life through heartfelt prose and generous photographs. The book’s title is derived from the autonomy the author strove to achieve in order to feel wholly at peace with what she calls a shameful family secret: her mother Margaret’s lifelong struggle with paranoid schizophrenia. Life became challenging early on as the daughter of an atheist father and a mother who heard the “voices of a god and a devil.” Lieberman diligently retraces her parents’ individual histories, reaching back to her mother’s birth to a Mormon family in Utah and the blind date that would seal her romantic fate with the author’s father, Frank. Though the marriage of a Mormon-raised daughter to a gentile raised eyebrows in Salt Lake City, their union produced the author, the surviving female twin from a complicated pregnancy (her brother died in childbirth). Years later, her mother began hearing demonic voices that incapacitated her, while Lieberman found supreme solace in the safe havens of next-door neighbor Marlene Evans, the Mormon Church, and her Aunt Mary’s home. In sharing cherished anecdotes and resonant memories, the author effectively exorcises the demons of a youth spent searching for answers and knowing “my mother was both dangerous and deeply disturbed.” As the author learned lessons about death, money, driving, and jealousy, a stint abroad helped her mature into a woman capable of love and motherhood even as the Vietnam War raged on and the irrational fear that she would develop schizophrenia loomed. Lieberman rightfully labels schizophrenia as an incurable “human disaster.” As a child, her mother’s paranoid hallucinations of “invisible demons” were random and frightening, and Lieberman’s portrayal of Margaret’s further descent is palpably disturbing and sorrowful. Yet it also presents the author as an increasingly formidable and resilient woman able to withstand the sadness of her mother’s illness with the fortitude of a well-adjusted adult. Her poignant, painstakingly detailed journey is both exhaustive and intimately personal.

A searingly honest chronicle of motherhood and mental illness drawn from the bittersweet memories of a daughter.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2017
Publisher: Camperdown Elm Publishing
Review Posted Online: July 11th, 2017
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2017

 

KIRKUS REVIEW

OPTIMAL DISTANCE  A Divided Life. Part Two
by Joan Carol Lieberman

Lieberman’s (Optimal Distance: A Divided Life, Part One, 2017) autobiography continues with this second installment, which resumes her story just after her schizophrenic mother’s passing.

Near the start of this book, the author eloquently equates her mother’s death to “an amputation that left behind a phantom limb still sending alarm signals to my brain.” The event also gave the author a new perspective on her own fate and “definitely made me eager to start my life over.” With remarkable recollection, she retraces her own life after her mother became a memory, unhurriedly recounting decades of devoted child-rearing and pet raising, and the joys and struggles of her career and family life. When her own daughter moved away to college, she reconsidered the surgery that prevented her from having further pregnancies, despite her husband’s initial objections. She reversed the procedure and had a son, Eben, in 1983, 20 years after the birth of her first child, Olivia. A struggle against breast cancer clouded her mid-forties, but she managed to start a preschool and experienced great improvement after treatment with an experimental drug. Even so, she endured an unforeseen remission in 1992, which re-framed her life once more. Later, she went on to care for her mother-in-law in Florida. The daily foibles and adventures of the author and her mother-in-law in these later pages add some welcome levity and humor to this impassioned autobiography and demonstrate the author’s talent for zesty prose, before the predication of her own declining health takes over the book’s concluding chapters. Still, as readers may expect after the last volume, Lieberman effectively shows how her abiding spirit delivers her from death’s door again and again. Although the sunny skies in this remembrance often seem to be few and far between, readers will still get immense satisfaction from knowing that Lieberman made it through—and that she has happiness, love, and precious children to show for it. As in her first installment, the author generously supplies family photographs that greatly embellish and enhance her moving chronicle of motherhood.

A memorable, rewarding family saga of familial love, and unbridled determination.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2017
Publisher: Camperdown Elm Publishing
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online: July 24th, 2017