The Sky Isn't Visible from Here

The Sky Isn't Visible from Here

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by Felicia C. Sullivan

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Felicia Sullivan's volatile, beautiful, deceitful, drug-addicted mother disappeared on the night Sullivan graduated from college, and has not been seen or heard from in the ten years since. Sullivan, who grew up on the tough streets of Brooklyn in the 1980s, now looks back on her childhood—lived among drug dealers, users, and substitute fathers. Sullivan…  See more details below


Felicia Sullivan's volatile, beautiful, deceitful, drug-addicted mother disappeared on the night Sullivan graduated from college, and has not been seen or heard from in the ten years since. Sullivan, who grew up on the tough streets of Brooklyn in the 1980s, now looks back on her childhood—lived among drug dealers, users, and substitute fathers. Sullivan became her mother's keeper, taking her to the hospital when she overdosed, withstanding her narcissistic rages, succumbing to the abuse or indifference of so-called stepfathers, and always wondering why her mother would never reveal the truth about the father she'd never met.

Ashamed of her past, Sullivan invented a persona to show the world. Yet despite her Ivy League education and numerous accomplishments, she, like her mother, eventually succumbed to alcohol and drug abuse. She wrote The Sky Isn't Visible from Here, a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, when she realized it was time to kill her own creation.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

A poignant memoir by writer Sullivan palpates the wounds of growing up with an unstable, cocaine-abusing mother. The young narrator's emotionally manipulative mother, Rosina, worked as a waitress at whatever Brooklyn diner hadn't fired her yet for stealing from the cash box in order to feed the increasingly destructive cocaine habit she formed while living with her Israeli-born boyfriend, Avram. Sullivan grew up cringing in the shadow of her crass, chain-smoking mother, who moved from boyfriend to boyfriend, from Sunset Park, Brooklyn, to upscale Valley Stream, Long Island. Sullivan tried hard to distinguish herself in school, despite drinking heavily as a teenager to ease social pressure and shoplifting to strike back angrily at her mother. Later, she explains, she fell into similar patterns of self-anesthetizing with cocaine and alcohol while grasping after a lucrative career in finance in her early 20s. Sullivan's memoir cuts predictably back and forth in time and features some memorable types, such as needy early girlfriends whose mothers were as wacky as her own; junkie Aunt Marisol who died of an overdose; and her mother's battering boyfriend Eddie. Putting herself through Fordham, then Columbia's M.F.A. program hardly eased Sullivan's pain, but the act of writing purges her memory. (Feb.)

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Kirkus Reviews
Girl from the tough side of Brooklyn leaves behind her domineering mother and invents a new, fake life for herself in Manhattan in this hard-bitten autobiography. Growing up poor in sketchy neighborhoods, her skin too pale to hang with the black and Hispanic kids, her hair too kinky for the white kids, Sullivan had a rough childhood. Her mother was a violent, monstrously selfish drug addict and thief with a thing for men who abused not only her but her daughter. The author tried to self-medicate her way past the damage. She had her first blackout from alcohol at age 17, from cocaine at 24. Escaping to Fordham University on a scholarship, she determinedly made friends with the blondest, preppiest girls she could find, doing everything possible to block out the past. But she still indulged in risky behavior, including constant drug use that got her fired from just the kind of secure white-collar job that would have helped put the old neighborhood behind her. She led a schizophrenic existence, her memories constantly besieged by her mother's manipulative, brazen insistence that the pain and neglect she remembered never happened. "I fumble for pieces of artifact that are not tainted by her voice," Sullivan writes. "For things that are real." Her narrative hops around, but this isn't a fault-the lurching chronology accurately replicates the synapse misfires of a beleaguered brain. Sullivan's bracing, pared-to-the-bone prose evokes compassion by being impressively free of the narcissistic self-worship that so often infects books of this stripe. Agent: Matthew Carnicelli/Carnicelli Literary Management

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Product Details

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.75(w) x 8.81(h) x 0.99(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"The story is a Brooklyn Cinderella's; the endearing new voice is fresh. Funny, fierce, wobbling like a colt on new legs, Sullivan leaps from these pages as a fighter."—Lisa Dierbeck, author of One Pill Makes You Smaller

"Felicia Sullivan's memoir is a brave and lovely one. It's full of terrifying moments in the mean streets of Brooklyn as well as courageous ones in the complicated byways of familial love. Sullivan has created a world that's beautifully crafted and powerfully inhabited. Brava."—Roxana Robinson, author of Sweetwater and A Perfect Stranger

"An unforgettable story, breathtakingly told. This book will break your heart, and make it stronger."—Janice Erlbaum, author of Girlbomb

Meet the Author

Felicia C. Sullivan is a graduate of the Columbia University MFA program. She is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee and a Best American Essays notable. Her work has appeared in the Huffington Post, Swink, Post Road, Mississippi Review, and Pindeldyboz and in the anthologies Homewrecker: An Atlas of Illicit Loves and Money Changes Everything, among others. Sullivan was the recipient of the 2005 Tin House memoir fellowship, and in 2001, she founded the critically acclaimed literary journal Small Spiral Notebook. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Sky Isn't Visible from Here 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
donnareads911 More than 1 year ago
This was a gritty story of a "for-real" woman, who pulled herself up from a miserable, unsavory childhood, to an educated, and successful young woman, who lost that to the drug infused life like her mother, and then her climb back out. Although I found myself flipping to the cover to confirm this was not a novel, and found it an extemely easy read, it didn't emotionally grab me. In fact, at the end, I was glad the "story" was over. Part of me feels that I am reading a life that is going to fall apart with good sales of the book, going right up the author's nose. Maybe not, but I'm not convinced or hopeful as I close the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought this book after being drawn to its title. I read the inside cover and thought it would really be a page turner but I found it to be lacking. I really was pulling for the author and hoping it would get better but it falls flat.
harstan More than 1 year ago
This is not an easy to read autobiography though extremely well written and poignant, as Felicia C. Sullivan bares her soul in a cautionary memoir. She lived poor in Brooklyn with her mom Rosina working in a series of diners while always being fired for stealing and through one boyfriend after another as Rosina stole to pay for her cocaine habit and changed boyfriends when they tired of her. Felicia did not fit in any of the zillion neighborhoods mom moved them to as her skin was to white. She escaped to Fordham University and just before she graduated mom vanished. However, the child is not far from the parent as Felicia fell into similar patterns with drink and cocaine even while succeeding in finance behind the facade of a fake history; that is until her behavior led to her firing. This is an excellent autobiography in which the author peels away the masks to reveal her most inner essence for audiences to see how far she has come from her nuclear bomb roots and how "habitually" easy it is for a person to fall back into self destructive behavior. Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
NEVER. . .have I had a reading experience like this one. Completely unprepared for this, Sullivan's book took me by surprise. One does not expect a memoir be thrilling, terrifying, cliff-hanging -- I mean the way Tom Clancy's CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER is. Reading THE SKY ISN'T VISIBLE FROM HERE is like riding on a runaway train. The journey begins: "In the spring of 1997, a few weeks before my college graduation my mother disappeared. Over the years, I had grown used to her leaving: a four-day cocaine binge; a wedding at City Hall to which I was not invited; the months she locked herself behind her bedroom door and emerged only to buy cigarettes. I'd spent the greater part of my life feeling abandoned by my mother. Yet she'd always return -- blazing into the kitchen to cook up a holiday feast for ten. . .back from her drug dealer on Brooklyn's Ninth Avenue. "On the morning of my graduation, though, dressed in a black gown, I walked up the promenade to receive my diploma. . . . My mother's face didn't appear among the proud, applauding parents. I knew then that I'd never see her again. . . ." Okay. Issues with the mother. This I can deal with. This I can top, actually. And it all takes place in New York (Brooklyn, Manhattan), where everything is ridiculously scattered and fast. New Yorkers scream and zoom about under the ground like crazed Formicidae, eating things I cannot pronounce -- while I am languidly, safely ensconced in the South, sipping lemonade on a porch. I've seen Sullivan on Internet videos -- a beautiful, brilliant young woman speaking four times faster than I do. But then the train speeds up. And now the sudden horror when you realize the train is out of control, zinging faster down the rails, my God. In the railroad car you're riding in, there is, figuratively, a camera. Sullivan eases you behind the camera, which records every single thing -- now and in the past. The camera is outfitted with x-ray vision into Sullivan's heart and soul, as the train plunges down the track. . . . Her mother would subject her to severe mental cruelty, and then rush to protect her. Felicia was emotionally abused, but she was not, at least not always, a neglected child. She was loved, to the extent that her mother was capable of loving a child, but the love was doled out in scraps and shards. They were poor and moved constantly. Sullivan and her mother reversed roles, with Sullivan taking charge when her mother, high on cocaine, passed out. There was a stream of boyfriends (men in her mother's life); blessedly, one of the good ones became almost a real father to her. Cocaine became Sullivan's nemesis and savior: "'So what was it [cocaine] like?' Emily asks. . . . We hear jackhammers and power drills outside, shaking bodies handling great machines, cracking the pavement, spilling hot tar. 'It's like Broadway up my nose,' I say." Read this stunning memoir. Sullivan's writing is superb, all grace and grit, and you will not find many more accomplished wordsmiths writing today. --Arlene Sanders