Book review: “Never Simple”, by Liz Scheier

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welcome to Group texta monthly column for readers and book clubs on novels, memoirs and collections of short stories that make you want to talk, ask questions and linger a little longer in another world.

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When Liz Scheier returned to Manhattan during her freshman year of college, she told her mother that she was considering getting her driver’s license. Her mother’s response was enough to instill fear in any family member’s heart: “I have to tell you something.

Scheier learned that she had no birth certificate – in fact, there was no record of her birth – and that her mother, Judith, had been married to a man who was not her father when ‘she is born. Suddenly, a learner’s permit was the least of his worries. How she had a social security number and a passport were questions for another day.

“No one lies like a family,” Scheier writes in the preface to his memoir, which bears the aptly but understated title NEVER SIMPLE (Holt, 288 pages, $26.99). “This is the story of digging up the biggest lie I’ve ever been told.”

The book reads like a Nancy Drew mystery where everyone’s favorite amateur sleuth has done some intense personal work and now has the courage and self-awareness to turn his magnifying glass inward. Scheier approaches her childhood like a detective (she’s actually a product developer and former copywriter), going piece by piece, block by block, and year by year as she points out the cracks between the fiction she was raised with. and the facts she reconstructed. her own.

Here are the basics: Scheier grew up with her mother in a rent-stabilized three-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side. His father was not in the photo. “It was an isolated life in the center of a huge city,” she writes. “We were anonymous, a mother and her daughter going about our mother-daughter lives. I didn’t know then how many eyes were on us. Judith Scheier’s finances were a mystery – she had worked as a lawyer in her thirties but never had a job again – and she spent most of her time following her daughter, closely monitoring her behavior and formulating recommendations. reviews if any (or not). She could be loving, funny and warm, or she could burst into a violent rage. After such an incident, Scheier ran away from her home and was arrested by police officers who she begged not to take her home. The strangeness of her family life – the unanswered questions, the tension and the isolation – had finally taken its toll.

As she got older, Scheier made it her job to put space between her and her mother, but she kept being dragged back to the lonely planet where Judith seethed and brooded, alienating friends and neighbors. Judith stopped paying rent, so in her 20s, with student loans to worry about, Scheier donated her eggs and used some of the proceeds to pay off her mother’s debt. Eventually, Judith was evicted and transferred to a homeless shelter.

For reasons that become abundantly clear, providing his mother with a bed in her own home was not an option for Scheier. Neither of them abandoned his mother. The way she juggles harrowing decisions about Judith with her own marriage, a move, and the birth of her children is quite an achievement.

Why don’t you call her less often, asked well-meaning, puzzled friends, and I laughed in disbelief,” Scheier writes. “My mother was the vortex of a hurricane, whose howling winds and swirling tons of debris only had to touch me to sweep me away.”

When “Never Simple” started, I might have been one of those well-meaning friends. By the time I reached the end, I was grateful that Scheier had weathered the storm.

  • When Scheier was thinking about how she might describe her mother to her children, a friend said, “She will be a story, not a weapon. What does it mean? And how are friends the real heroes of this book?

  • The dedication to “Never Simple” is “For Judith Scheier, who tried”. Discuss, preferably using words like “compassion” and “empathy.”

This is just my face: try not to stare at it,” by Gabourey Sidibe. When your mother quits teaching singing on the subway and your father moves a “cousin” (who turns out to be his wife) into your bedroom, you have the makings of a solid memoir. Bonus points if you become a movie star like Sidibe. With a wicked sense of humor that reminds me of Scheier, Sidibe takes readers behind the scenes of another New York childhood.

Crying in H Martby Michelle Zauner. “His was tougher than tough love,” Zauner wrote in his memoir of the loss of his mother. “It was brutal, industrial strength. A nervous love that never gave way to an inch of weakness. This industrial-strength love is where the similarities between Chongmi Zauner and Judith Scheier begin and end, but their daughters’ stories are both told from the perspective of siblings, so they’re interesting to read in tandem.

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