Darkroom is a work of art, exquisitely written, spare, never self-indulgent. She pushes the memoir far beyond the usual litany of pain, Prozac and psychiatry to something transcendent and, at times, frighteningly beautiful. . . . Darkroom is raw and honest, a fine debut for a brave writer.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution - Diane Roberts
How extraordinary: Christman can see so damned clearly in the darkest of rooms. But that's where everything develops, after all, for all of usin the dark. In the dark, Christman starts feeling her way, stumbling and fumbling and getting knocked down and getting back up, feeling her way towards her own deliberate, tough and oh so sweetly gentle life. Everything is here: pain and love and failure; abuse and terror; shutting up and making up; and even one or two moments of elusive victoryso much shows up here that the whole thing could easily fall into cliché. But that's what really superb writing does: it rescues the ordinary and the everyday, it turns the minute miraculous. Christman has great talent. The book's a joy. Read it, and see how many bits of life come clear.
Christman employs a kind of collage technique to tell her story. She writes well; her style is sensual and juicy. . . .
Darkroom could have been a maudlin read, but it's saved by Christman's insight and skill and leavened by occasional passages of humor.
Washington Post Book World
It's a beautiful story, beautifully told. . . . Against all odds there is humor here, too, and in the end, the affirmation of a worthy life, won by a survivor.
Christman begins her journey into the past by studying family photographs, then searches deeper, exploring memory, where profound truths are discovered. Some of Christman’s memories surface like photos developed in acid; other memories are more gentle. What Christman wants us to know is that all memories, good and bad, remembered or reclaimed, are crucial to self-knowledge. In exquisite and compelling detail,
Darkroom exposes Christman’s family photographs in all their complexity and color.
author of Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You - Sue William Silverman
A survivor's tale full of brutal honesty and intelligence. Like Truman Capote and Alexandra Fuller, Christman offers the reader unforgettable visual images, luminous and terrifying at the same time.
author of The Body Is Water - Julie Schumacher
"I have always been obsessed with photographs. Now I am obsessed with memory," writes Christman, recalling Marguerite Duras's declaration that "[p]hotographs promote forgetting." This Ball State University English professor's account of her first 30 years ruminatively details a counterculture childhood and complicated adulthood, and varies between the harrowing and prosaic. The tale begins with a horrific event before she was even born: Christman's toddler brother was severely burned in the shower while their father was distracted and their mother was at work. Burned over 80% of his body, the boy spent nearly a year in the hospital. The incident precipitated the eventual dissolution of her parents' marriage and consequently impelled Christman's quest to exhume memories. Happy times are rare. Ugly reminiscences surface at age 19, when years of bulimia and self-mutilation propel her into therapy. There, she reveals an ordeal of sexual abuse by a teenaged neighbor. The following year, Christman's 22-year-old fianc is killed in an accident, and her beloved grandmother, keeper of the photo albums in which Christman searches for answers, dies a slow death. Her marijuana-growing uncle, whom she loves dearly, bleeds to death in prison. Throughout, Christman struggles with the concept of how memory shapes the present and reshapes the past. She incorporates into the text elements of her artist parents' work as well as family photographs, and her language ranges from an alternately lush and ethereal literariness to a deliberate grimness illuminated by hope. This book, winner of the Associated Writing Programs Award for Creative Nonfiction, is difficult yet forceful. (Oct. 14) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Although at times offering shockingly personal revelations, Christman achieves an amazingly balanced perspective in this memoir about her family. In part, this balance is achieved by the clever way in which memory, letters, diary entries, quotations, and photographs are spliced together and juxtaposed to create a richly layered text. Christman (English, Ball State Univ.) also draws extensively on her knowledge of contemporary critical theory. However, her acute awareness of semiotics, of the way in which narratives are constructed, and of how photographs interact with the enigma of memory never compromises the sincerity of the text or overloads it with pretensions. The reader is privileged to be taken on a journey from Christman's childhood to the present, meeting tragedy (both sexual abuse and accidental death) and happiness at every turn of the page. Preconceptions are challenged, experience is analyzed, and painful, socially relevant issues are unflinchingly exposed. The organization of the book into short, almost fragmented passages at once prevents it from becoming overwhelming, and encourages the reader to ponder whether, and how, these many parts can fit into a coherent whole.-Rebecca Bollen, Jersey City, NJ Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
A debut memoir of sexual abuse, bulimia, and other horrors.
Before Christman (English/Ball State Univ.) was born, her 13-month-old brother Ian was badly burned in the shower. Their father, consumed by guilt because he had left the toddler unsupervised, fled the family. When Ian was three, his parents very briefly reconciled, which led to Jill’s birth. Ian’s burning, the memory that defines the Christman family, is "remembered" by all four, even though their mother was away at work and Jill was not yet born. This is an account of remembrance, about memories that cannot be trusted unless they’re verified by snapshots from a family scrapbook or verbally by another person. Christman’s narrative has a dreamlike quality: it doubles back on itself, jumps from past to present, and flaunts the narrator’s unreliability. ("I think I made that up" is a repeated refrain.) Fast-forward to the author at age 19. She’s a straight-A student who can’t stop vomiting and can’t sleep. A campus counselor suggests that bulimia almost always results from sexual abuse and prescribes Prozac. Suddenly the author remembers six years of abuse at the hands of a neighbor. Is the memory true? Remembering that another man was present, she approaches him, and he verifies it. At this point, a fragile Christman becomes involved with her best friend’s brother, seemingly her first healthy relationship. One year later he’s killed in a car crash. The story then switches to the author’s uncle Mark, an alcoholic in and out of trouble with the law. This account is more linear than the first half and relies much less on family photographs. Arrested in Washington State for growing marijuana, Mark is sentenced to ten years infederal prison. Halfway through his prison sentence the author and her mother arrive to visit, only to find that Mark has bled to death, alone in his cell, just hours earlier.
Deft but hardly easy reading. (20 b&w photographs and drawings)