Shadow Girl: A Memoir of Attachment

Overview

As the good little girl in an unhappy family who hid her darker troubles, Deb Abramson felt like she was living with another girl, a shadowy being who would neither leave nor make herself known. Crushed beneath the burden of her parents‘ rigid expectations yet driven to satisfy their needs, Abramson becomes bulimic, then severely depressed and suicidal, retreating more and more from the troubling outside world to the seeming haven of home, to a cycle of comfort from and competition with her depressed mother, to ...

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Shadow Girl: A Memoir Of Attachment

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Overview

As the good little girl in an unhappy family who hid her darker troubles, Deb Abramson felt like she was living with another girl, a shadowy being who would neither leave nor make herself known. Crushed beneath the burden of her parents‘ rigid expectations yet driven to satisfy their needs, Abramson becomes bulimic, then severely depressed and suicidal, retreating more and more from the troubling outside world to the seeming haven of home, to a cycle of comfort from and competition with her depressed mother, to the frightening but alluring intimacy of her father's affections. Her struggle to extricate herself from the “impermeable, immutable knot” of her family forms the heart of her dazzling book.

In this psychological portrait of a family bound together by the uneasy permutations of love, Abramson relies not on sensationalist narrative but on a collection of the many small moments that glitter along the bumpy path of her life. Now and then she provides a broader, connecting perspective by stepping out of her story to reflect on the meaning of it all from the standpoint of the insightful, healed person she has managed—against all odds—to become.

Rich in metaphor and intimate detail, this is a lyrical story about moving from isolation toward connection, about seeing childhood not as a crippling refuge but as a point of departure, about discovering that it is possible to “have your shadows as well as your light.”

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A tautly constructed memoir of childhood and beyond, Shadow Girl confronts the combative attachments of everyday family life with an astonishing openness and, better yet--with the refreshing audacity to shed the ready-made memories and off-the-rack narratives that dress up so many contemporary life stories."- Robert Atwan, series editor, The Best American Essays

"The best book I've read in some time. It has suspense, a sharply defined character, a plot. It makes you fall in love with the precocious little girl, then hurt for her as she's growing and discovering the difficulties of being human. On top of that, it delivers the voyeuristic thrill of intimate family secrets, the intellectual satisfaction of psychologically complex characters, and the inspiration of a happy ending.”—Clair James

Kirkus Reviews
A competently written, unremarkable coming-of-age memoir. Abramson notes that "there are no watershed incidents that divide my existence neatly into before and after. . . . How do I make meaning out of a life with no strong plot?" The reader wonders as well. Growing up in suburban New Rochelle, New York, Abramson abided by all the rules, taking on the role of good girl to her brother's bad boy. Sitting in her kelly-green, bright yellow, and white bedroom, the author diligently studied for her SATs, wrote melancholy poetry, and brooded about her parents' relationship. A bleak fog seems to encase all her memories, but her childhood was apparently neither horrible nor wonderful, a middling state that can make for dull reading. When she's three, Abramson and her family make a pilgrimage to Israel, planting a tree there as a symbol of their faith. The sight of the tender sapling makes the author cry-there is "too much" expected from it, and too much from the child. This symbolic memory sets Abramson's tone. While she is deeply attached to her parents (and they to her), she finds the bonds intolerable. For reasons that remain unclear, she idolizes her father and despises her mother, although there's something disturbing about the relationship with her father. ("All of his masculine love funneled toward me.") The author becomes bulimic, anorexic, attempts suicide, is admitted to a psychiatric hospital. While she remains coy about these events ("I feel I cannot talk about that here"), she includes telling details about the family's Judaism: the father being devout, the mother less so, while the two children go through intensely religious periods before settling into more secular habits. Finally,after years of therapy, Abramson seems to manage her despair, separates herself a bit from her family, and begins a career as a freelance writer. The memoir as reduced to recitals of dysfunction.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780877458234
  • Publisher: University of Iowa Press
  • Publication date: 10/2/2002
  • Series: Sightline Books
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 2002
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 5.75 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Deb Abramson received her bachelor's degree from Yale University in 1991 and her MFA in creative nonfiction from Goucher College in 2000.  Her essays have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Sun, River Teeth, Under the Sun, and other publications.  A Pushcart Prize nominee, she lives in Vermont.  Shadow Girl is her first book.

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Table of Contents

Contents Acknowledgments Proof: A Preface Swallow Family Tree Secret Body Escher's Hands In Place My Brother's Room Where My Heart Lies Emergency Sanctuary The Rules of the Game Ring Fingers Triangles Story Time Shadow Girl Golden Sparrow Fade Ants Unspoken Compare/ Contrast Decorating Tips No Man's Land Shreds Eclipse Interlude The Narrowest Path First Snoe Splinter In Which Our Heroine Shares Something Important about Life Epilogue

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 12, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I enjoyed this book immensely

    This book is a deeply honest and candid look into a young girl's life. The primary elements that shape her experience, I believe could resonate with a great many others. What I like about Deb's view of her journey is how she found the courage to see it as a motion that continues on, despite the gravity of depression, which is an amazing feat, filled with hope for others, struggling on the same sort of landscape. This book is as much about a family as it is about an individual. The orientations Deb engages us in here illuminate several insights into how children arrive as powerful discrete energies with their own causal agendas. Parents, too immersed in strict tradition, though love is there, often aren't able to intuit or understand what their kids came in with or how the household harmonic is shaping them. This book shows the broader scope of love, which in its true motion, rarely fits our comfort zones. This story shows how love is simply growth, with no aesthetic bias or sense of duality. Deb illustrates this principle beautifully in Shadow Girl.

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