Writing a memoir is more than merely putting facts down on paper and regurgitating the gory details of our painful past. We’ve all had heartbreak and joy, but the glue must be in the story. As American author Susan Shapiro (“Five Men Who Broke My Heart”) puts it, “A novel that is merely autobiographical is a great disappointment, but a memoir that reads like a novel is a great surprise.”
Donna LeClair does the genre justice in Waking Reality, her page-turning memoir. It will make you appreciate full disclosure honesty rather than disparage over a writer evincing her suffering, which occurred mainly at the hands of men, including her father. This memoir is for anyone willing to go along for the ride with a writer who exposes her life’s nooks and crannies, some uplifting, and many horrifyingly unreal.
Through engaging and well-written prose, LeClair relates the 1963 murder trial known as State of Ohio v. Bill Bush, a police sergeant who murdered three members of one family. Bush happened to be her uncle and the family he tore apart, hers. Due to the circumstances of the trial, LeClair and her sisters were in protective custody. Imprisoned at ten years old in her own home, she was forced to crawl so she “would not be within visual range of a shooter.” She stopped watching TV because the glowing screen alerted potential intruders when the family was home.
Amid the horror, LeClair introduces the word “hologram” 27 times (I counted), evoking themes of truth, light, and above all, faith, as in this passage early in the book: “Lurking behind these seasoned holograms are withering spirits who weep in unfathomable chateaux, scrutinizing the tumbling of their gingerbread thoughts. None of our lives’ fantasies or any of our hearts’ desires can put crumbling pieces back together, but if you secure the courage to journey inward, the key to your happiness reflects there.”
She doesn’t just tell us the story of her childhood fear, she sings it, using these fairytale-like passages: “I know angels carried me home that day because I was too young to make the journey unaccompanied, and hell is too far of a gallop for legs groomed not for devil’s track. Wings of godliness cloaked my thought’s defiance of belief and knowing; the communion of virtue and endurance heralded a sanctuary of nudities unbeknownst to my virgin eyes.”
To some, the fantasy interludes may be a distraction; others will see the distorted sense of reality her child self endured. “Mirror, mirror of the truth, I beg of you, show no more. Why do I have to look inside? It would be easier to hide… Hide, if you wish, but there is no escape to all those things buried deep inside.”
LeClair apparently honed her literary acumen in high school, but not by attending class and taking notes. Detecting a deep sadness in her student, LeClair’s English teacher excused her as long as she produced a short story or poem by the end of the day.
Waking Reality is recommended reading for anyone looking for an engrossing account of a woman’s courageous story growing up in the 1960s. You will want to see that she emerges through the dark tunnel of abuse; LeClair has two children and three grandchildren and does lectures around the country.