“In this brave, hard-won, and gorgeously written memoir, Rachel Sontag lays out the story of her family in prose as tautly strung and delicate as a high-wire. . . . A remarkable book.”
“...a fresh and utterly engrossing memoir...a father/daughter story full of candor, truth, betrayal and, ultimately, love.”
“Sontag recollects in vivid detail what it is to die a slow emotional death then somehow manage to resuscitate herself.”
“[Sontag’s] story shows just how resilient the human spirit can be.”
“As Rachel Sontag makes clear in her searing memoir, “House Rules,” emotional abuse can be as devastating, as cruel, as the most severe physical and sexual maltreatment….What is remarkable and inspiring is that Sontag emerged from the situation a stronger person.”
“Sontag’s lean writing captures the tension the feeling of family as prison. Each time an outside observer recognizes her father’s manipulative cruelty, the reader feels a little surge of hope. Get out of there, Rachel! Get out!”
Sontag, a doctor's daughter, grew up in a family that seemed every bit the normal, suburban ideal. She and her sister were raised to value book smarts as well as worldly experience. What those outside of the family didn't know was that the reason Sontag was so accomplished and committed to her extracurricular activities was that she would've done anything to get away from her father, Stephen. By enforcing a peculiar system of rules and consequences, he micromanaged every moment of her life, tape-recording her conversations, measuring the length of her fingernails and locking all the phones in a safe when he left the house. When Sontag broke the rules, regardless of circumstance, he would verbally abuse her for hours, dictating letters of apology from her to him ("I am a selfish, rotten, worthless brat," etc.). Sontag's mother, Ellen, reneged on plans to divorce him for years, perhaps partly because Stephen prescribed her into complacency with lithium. In adulthood, Sontag found herself caught in self-defeating patterns that smacked of her father's thrall. Struggling to break free, she even resorted to homelessness before finally severing her relationship with Stephen. Sontag's is a brave account, not only of what it's like to take the brunt of an abusive parent's wrath, but of what it means to have the courage to leave. (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
A painful childhood is grist for the mill in contemporary memoirs, and this one has all the necessary components: a controlling, mentally ill father and distant mother, stints in group homes, and experimentation with drugs. Yet somehow, Sontag rises above the predictable in this gripping, quirky, unusual look back at a childhood that would have ruined adulthood for most people. Sontag's father was a respected physician who insisted on keeping track of every area of his two daughters' lives, down to the growth of their hair and the length of their fingernails. Her mother, a social worker, stood helplessly by, watching, for example, as her husband locked Sontag out of the house on a cold Chicago night to "teach a lesson" about forgetting one's house keys. Ultimately, Sontag's mother shoulders most of the blame for this family gone haywire because of what Sontag sees as her inability to leave the marriage or to put her daughters and their welfare before the demented standards of her spouse. Sontag's voice remains clear, authentic, and humorous throughout. Recommended for public libraries.
Jan Brue Enright
Viewed from the outside, Sontag's Illinois childhood was stereotypically American upper middle class-a physician father, social-worker mother, two girls, a house with a yard and a dog. Behind that facade, Sontag says, was a dysfunctional family ruled by a man who consistently berated, humiliated, and bullied his children and his wife. Particularly onerous were the "middle of the night" sessions, wherein Rachel was summoned downstairs for yet another recitation of her failings that ended only when she admitted to being a selfish, negligent rule-breaker. She rails against her father's obsessive and "sick" conduct, yet seems especially angry with her mother, whose weakness she finds repellent. Only by physically removing herself from the household could she begin to achieve independence, repair her self-image, and, eventually, come to terms with parents she could neither live with nor change. Some may find her self-pitying and will question her precise quotation of conversations that occurred years ago. Yet her book is a memoir; it does not pretend to be anything other than what it is: one daughter's perspective of life under a man who, in her eyes, chose to play the role of despot rather than that of loving and forgiving husband and father. Readers in similar circumstances may gain comfort from seeing the author's eventual independence.-Dori DeSpain, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Self-absorbed debut memoir about growing up in a dysfunctional family ruled by a father adept at inflicting psychological pain. Sontag presents this as a book on family dynamics, but its scope is actually much narrower. She focuses primarily on the controlling behavior of her father, a physician in a VA hospital who set and enforced his own unreasonable rules for what the author, her mother and sometimes her younger sister could and could not say and do. His wife, a school social worker, was singularly unable or unwilling to protect her daughters or herself from his bizarre strictures and harsh, tormenting harangues. In Sontag's sharply reconstructed scenes, her father comes across as a name-calling monster, her mother as a cringing wimp. There was no physical abuse (unless being locked out of the house in winter counts), but at one point during her high-school years, the department of social services apparently recognized the psychological harm being done to Sontag and temporarily removed her from the family home. Her weak, fearful mother promised to get a divorce, but it became clear that she never would, that her ties with her husband were stronger than those with her children. When the author finally left home, her struggle to become independent became arduous. Family relations were strained, lies seemed necessary, apologies and reconciliations were not forthcoming. In the final chapters, almost as an afterthought, Sontag briefly explores her relationship with her younger sister, whom their father tended to ignore as they were growing up. A depressing account, lacking the warmth and power of Jeannette Walls's The Glass Castle (2005), to which it will inevitably be compared. Agent:Amanda Urban/ICM