This week I managed to complete another book on my year-long reading list and it turned out to be a really wonderful book for the summer, being set at a beach-front vacation home. Rescuing Patty Hearst by Virginia Holman is a memoir that takes place very near where I grew up, in a city that I, in fact, have spent a great deal of time: Virginia Beach, Virginia. A scene in which she, her sister and her mother are driving through the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel was especially familiar.
“We are inside the tunnel. It's a filthy place, like a big yellow-tiled bathroom with soot on the walls and bad lighting. I wonder if the tunnel ever leaks and how I will get out if it begins to flood.”
I couldn't help feeling a sense of recognition when I came to this; I, too, used to get frightened traveling through the tunnel. I, too, used to wonder about the water leaking through. Truth be told, I still do, though it's been almost six years since I've been there.
This is not the only part of the book in which Holman's prose feels dead-on, though. Even when I couldn't relate per se, I could completely empathize. Though the back cover and the critic blurbs on the book boast of its incredible portrayal of schizophrenia – Virginia's mother, in the summer of '75, began showing signs of the illness- it is actually about a child's eye view of life as she grows up in a world of unreliable adults. It begins with her mother stealing her and her baby sister, Emma away to the family beach house in Kechotan, Virginia. She believed that she was being called upon to set up a hospital for orphans in preparation for the “secret war” to come. In reality, the author's mother was hearing voices. There at their vacation home, she enlisted her eldest daughter to help sanitize their surroundings and paint the windows black. All the while, to their closest neighbors (Holman's uncle and aunt and their children), she tries to appear normal.
Virginia Holman's novel spends much of the time showing how such a young girl makes sense of her mother's acute illness: at one point, she thinks that if she could be baptized it would clear away her sins and make her life (and subsequently, her mother's life) okay again. While it probably sounds depressing, it's actually a story fill of hope and eventual compassion for the mother who made life a nightmare for her children and husband. And there is much light through the cracks – beautifully written scenes of Holman and her cousins running around the beach, picnics with the family during the good times, a thrilling, terrifying description of a hurricane and more. Holman's memoir of resilience is definitely worth the read.
Louise Tripp grew up in North Carolina. She currently lives in Chicago, where she is revising her first YA novel and working in a public library.