When Smith was a child in Honolulu, her drug-prone mother, Karen, would vanish for hours at a time; when Smith was thirty-two, Karen, now homeless and a hopeless addict, went missing for several months. In this memoir, Smith combs the parks, rehab clinics, and red-light district of Honolulu for her mother, examining not only Karen’s descent into prostitution and heroin but also her family’s genteel past on Hawaii’s sugarcane plantations. Her sense of place and of history amplifies the narrative, though at times she relies too heavily on the well-worn trope of corrupted paradise. She has a sharp descriptive eye—a housing subdivision consists of “concrete-block ranch houses xeroxed onto freshly paved streets”—and a strong voice, which, though it occasionally shades into portentousness, honestly plumbs the guilt, rage, love, and pity that she feels toward her mother.
First-time memoirist Smith has spent most of her adult life on the East Coast, swapping the palm trees and leis of her Hawaiian childhood for subways and argyle sweaters. Not that she can be blamed for trying to distance herself from her roots. A descendant of an upper-class, white family, Smith's drug-addicted mother abandoned Smith when she was seven. Their family's saga resembles "a Faulkner sketch that had stumbled off to Honolulu. Plumeria instead of magnolia, but the setpieces were the same...." Although geographically separated from her wandering mother, Smith maintains a fierce attachment to her that ultimately brings her back to Hawaii. She draws on memories to tell of the search for her mother, who, homeless and using, disappears in 2002. The narrative dips back into turning points of Smith's upbringing to illustrate the experience of adoring a mother who often abandons her child, sometimes willfully, and sometimes because she's simply become distracted by a new lover or an old drug habit. Smith masterfully recounts Hawaii's history; the rise and fall of her family's fortunes parallel Hawaii's development. And Smith's Hawaiian experience differs from that of most nonwhite Hawaiians, resulting in an intriguing read. Agent, Richard Abate. (Oct.) Forecast: A first serial in the New Yorker, a nine-city author tour and national ads should put this on the map. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Smith's debut is yet another memoir of family dysfunction. Her mother, Karen, is a Mayflower descendant and a fifth-generation white Hawaiian. Always fond of men, drugs, and alcohol, Karen had an abortion, three daughters, and multiple marriages followed by divorces in rapid succession. Smith and her sisters learned early to watch over their mother. Despite Karen's absence at a legal hearing where her father and his second wife were awarded custody, Smith, along with her sisters, remained fiercely protective of her. In 2002, Smith was settling into a normal life in New York when she got a call from her sister. Their mother had been missing for several weeks, had married a fellow junkie, and had not contacted any of the usual social services. Once again, Smith set out to find her mother in the hope of saving her from her worst impulses. Though the setting is exotic, Smith's journey tale is all too familiar. Recommended only as interest warrants. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/04.] Pam Kingsbury, Univ. of North Alabama, Florence Communications Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Unapologetic and affecting debut memoir of the author's search for an errant mother, interweaving personal and family chronicles with the history of her native Hawaii. The tale begins on Thanksgiving 2002. Smith, 32, "unmarried, childless, and untethered," is out looking for mom, a homeless, relapsed heroin addict named Karen Morgan who has been missing for six months. "I don't know why I think my mother is my responsibility, but I do. I am afraid my mother is going to die out here . . . people die on the street, and this is why I am here." Karen's personal descent, however, started years before. Born in 1950 on a plantation outside Honolulu, she belonged to a once-wealthy family that by the end of the 20th century could be described as "tropical colonials in reduced circumstances." Karen was a '60s casualty, footloose and destructive, who "formally abandoned" her daughter at age seven; Smith was raised by her father and stepmother. The author's dedication and involvement with her feckless mother is both heartbreaking and fascinating. Add to this a fierce attachment to Hawaii, and you have the makings of a memoir in the spirit of Mary Karr's The Liars' Club. Smith is the best kind of survivor: a graduate of Dartmouth and Columbia who has forged loving relationships with her two sisters (each of Karen's daughters has a different father) and managed to keep her compassion intact. The search for her mother is, in truth, a search for herself, and she rebuilds her past by mining her memories, in the processes painting an alluring but unromantic portrait of life and society on the Hawaiian islands. She seems too willing to excuse her mother's excesses, but Smith's ability to lay bare her ownemotional turmoil more than makes up for her generosity. A terrifying testament. Agent: Richard Abate/ICM