12 March 2018
“Dad waves at a tower of cars and says, “Luke, cut off those tanks, yeah?” And Luke says, “Sure thing, Dad.” He lays the torch against his hip and strikes flint. Flames erupt from nowhere and take him. He screams, fumbles with the twine, screams again, and takes off through the weeds.“
There are life-and-death incidents and accidents and attacks all through this memoir, which reads like some sort of science fiction or dystopian thriller. We know Tara survives, because she wrote it, but I will give nothing else away.
Read the long, informative blurb on Goodreads for a good summary. I can’t really add to that other than to say this is a compelling read. Father and Mother are fundamentalist, Mormon preppers, preparing for when the government comes to get them. Tara has grown up with warning stories, and since she and her siblings are ”home-schooled” (meaning they work in the junkyard with their dad instead of going to school), she had no frame of reference. This is about the Weavers.
“‘There’s a family not far from here,’ Dad said. ‘They’re freedom fighters. They wouldn’t let the Government brainwash their kids in them public schools, so the Feds came after them.’ Dad exhaled, long and slow. ‘The Feds surrounded the family’s cabin, kept them locked in there for weeks, and when a hungry child, a little boy, snuck out to go hunting, the Feds shot him dead.’”
Why wouldn’t she believe him? When you’re a little kid, your parents know everything. When you go to school, you may start questioning your parents because you think your teacher knows everything. Tara’s teacher is her mother, and her mother is devoted to her father. She can’t understand why one minute her father is laughing about the danger she faces clambering on top of piles of junk to separate bits for sale, and the next minute he looks terrified, stockpiling stuff. This is not a spoiler, it’s very early in the book.
“Fourteen years after the incident with the Weavers, I would sit in a university classroom and listen to a professor of psychology describe something called bipolar disorder. Until that moment I had never heard of mental illness. I knew people could go crazy—they’d wear dead cats on their heads or fall in love with a turnip—but the notion that a person could be functional, lucid, persuasive, and something could still be wrong, had never occurred to me.”
She faced danger daily, forced to work in the junkyard with her father, who was tossing machinery parts in bins. She was nearly brained and cut with something and called to him to stop, but he kept right on throwing.
“I almost had it when Dad flung a catalytic converter. I leapt aside, cutting my hand on the serrated edge of a punctured tank. I wiped the blood on my jeans and shouted, ‘Don’t throw them here! I’m here!’ Dad looked up, surprised. He’d forgotten I was there. When he saw the blood, he walked over to me and put a hand on my shoulder. ‘Don’t worry, honey,’ he said. ‘God is here, working right alongside us. He won’t let anything hurt you. But if you are hurt, then that is His will’.
Her grandparents were not fundamentalists or preppers. Mother’s mother, Grandma-over-in-town, couldn’t believe her daughter hadn’t told Tara and the others to wash with soap. Basic cleanliness was overlooked. This was not a clean, lovely, homespun existence. This was pretty much squalor.
Her father pushed her mother to become a midwife after she had assisted the local midwife before she moved. Mother was frightened, but after a series of accidents and injuries to herself, which gave her migraines and probably brain damage, she became completely absorbed in her potions and lotions and herbal and homeopathic remedies for everything. She started clicking her fingers to “listen” for whether somebody had cancer or other infection.
Father’s response to every ailment or injury was “Bring him home. Your mother will deal with it”, including the kid in the first quote, who was on fire, running through the fields.
Brains spilling out on the highway? Your mother will deal with it. Broke your bones? Your mother will deal with it.
It would be laughable if it weren’t so desperately real and tragic. Tara is now estranged from her parents, because rather than believe her, they’ve sided with a brother who lives on their property. Understandable. Easier to ‘believe’ him than his sister who’s gone off and gotten herself all high-and-might educated, eh?
Westover never brags, but often questions her own sanity. To deal with her family, she had to withdraw into her mind sometimes as if she weren’t really sitting, stuck listening to her father’s one-hour diatribe about the Feds or whomever he’s down on at the moment. Mostly he just calls her “a whore”, but it turns out they don’t even know how old she is. They registered the first few kids but kept the other off the government books.
When they threaten to throw Tara out for something, she protests to her mother to intervene on her behalf. It’s not fair - she’s too young!
. . . but when I was your age I was living on my own, getting ready to marry your father.’
‘You were married at sixteen?’ I said.
‘Don’t be silly,’ she said. ‘You are not sixteen.’
I stared at her. She stared at me. ‘Yes, I am. I’m sixteen.’
She looked me over. ‘You’re at least twenty.’ She cocked her head. ‘Aren’t you?’
We were silent. My heart pounded in my chest. ‘I turned sixteen in September,’ I said.
‘Oh.’ Mother bit her lip, then she stood and smiled. ‘Well, don’t worry about it then. You can stay. Don’t know what your dad was thinking, really. I guess we forgot. Hard to keep track of how old you kids are.’
Unbelievable. Except it isn’t. There are plenty of backwood pockets in the good ol’ US of A that have families cut off from everybody, but eventually, the kids may be enticed away, causing terrible family rifts. And when the potions and lotions start making money, well . . . That’s enough from me.
Read it! Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the preview copy from which I’ve quoted (not NEARLY enough).