I’ve been waiting for this book to come out for months. It finally showed up on my doorstep on Friday (it releases tomorrow, but I got lucky and got an ARC) and I gobbled it up by Sunday morning, reading it during stolen moments here and there.
Blogger Elizabeth Esther isn’t everyone’s cuppa tea. She’s not that poised goddess of tact and diplomacy we all so admire in Rachel Held Evans. She’s not just a funny adult Catholic convert you want to buddy up with over beers to talk about boys and babies and the pope.
She’s larger-than-life, she’s sloppy, she’s enthusiastic, and she’s loud. Her Catholicism is deeply personal and sometimes off-putting. She wears headscarves to church. She live-tweets American Idol. She has Twitter-rant ADHD and reads more books than I can keep up with, and has a daily schedule that’s probably more demanding than the president’s–yet she’s often able to write a blog post a day (when, you know, she’s not writing a book) and be a good friend and pour herself into everyone and everything she loves with abandon.
When we met up this past fall, I wasn’t sure if we’d get along. Our stories have a lot of overlap, but I’m an introvert and she’s not. I’m stiff and awkward when I get uncomfortable and she gets happy-puppy affectionate.
Guys, I can’t review this book without talking about the woman who wrote it. I don’t know how it will come across to someone who’s never met her, but as I was reading Girl At The End Of The World, all I could think was “damn, her voice is so clear.” Every event unfolds and I can hear her telling these stories. I can hear her laughing at herself, I can hear her tender heartbreak and forgiveness as she talks about her parents, and I can hear her admiration and devotion when she talks about her husband, Matt.
This book rings true.
Memoir is tricky. I love to hate Joan Didion because she’s such a good writer, but her voice is so very much that of an unreliable narrator to me that I find myself in internal dissent with anything she says. I want a new vantage point, other angles. There are other authors whose memoir messes with me in this way–they’re ever so slightly out of sync with themselves and can’t quite hear themselves talk when they write about their lives. It’s uncomfortable to read.
This book is uncomfortable to read, but that’s not why. Elizabeth Esther has taken the memories from her formative years in her grandparents’ cult and grabbed these memories by the ears and showed us their bald faces–crooked teeth, handsome eyes, bad breath, and all. There is no disingenuous narration. There is only the agony of being a child, craving security and affection, and getting told that God doesn’t like you and your parents will beat you because of it.
This book is a love letter, from Elizabeth Esther to her child self. And, I think too, it’s a love letter to her own five children — who are the reasons she found the strength to leave the cult and seek out a God who loves. It’s a promise to work against the curse of legalism, shame, and abuse, to give her babies a family life with the love and security that little EE didn’t get to know.
We’re getting to eavesdrop on these conversations, as readers. We’re being handed her heart and we’re given permission to look at her scars. I’d feel more guilty about that if her writing of dialogue wasn’t so vivid and funny. But it is, and so I read and laughed and lost myself in the story. And I offer it to you, if you can stomach it, with this commendation:
Look how beautiful she is.