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Where You End and I Begin: A Memoir

af Leah McLaren

MedlemmerAnmeldelserPopularitetGennemsnitlig vurderingSamtaler
2211,035,097 (3.5)Ingen
"A daughter's riveting, devastating portrait of her relationship with her mother, a brilliant and charismatic woman haunted by childhood sexual trauma. When an eight-year-old Leah McLaren's parents get divorced, her mother, Cessie, flees her conventional life as a suburban housewife in search of a glamorous journalism career. In the chaotic years that follow, with her daughter in tow, Cessie lurches from one apartment, job and toxic romance to the next. Their bond is loving but also marked by casual indifference. Cessie's self-described parenting style of "benign neglect" is a hilarious party joke and Leah's stark reality. Their family motto, "Commitment sucks the life right out of you" is tacked up on every rental fridge. Inside the shelves are empty. During Leah's first year of high school she becomes gripped with anxiety following a troubling early sexual experience at a party. Cessie, in turn, makes a disclosure that will alter everything: from the age of twelve to fifteen, she was in a clandestine relationship with her middle-aged, married riding instructor. The damage inflicted by the "Horseman," Cessie explains, is the reason for all her ill-conceived life choices, including marriage, divorce and even motherhood itself. Both women will spend decades haunted by the specter of the Horseman, until they decide to investigate what became of him--an ill-conceived quest that will test the bonds of love and redefine their relationship forever. Written with searing candour and merciless wit, Where You End and I Begin is an intimate exploration of the ways intergenerational trauma is shared between women, and how acts of harm can be confused with acts of love."--… (mere)
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This review contains spoilers.

“It’s hard to love a mother whose bottomless desire for connection is delineated by an abject fear of being needed.”
—Leah McLaren

“I have never been very good at this mothering thing which requires a degree of selflessness that simply has never been in me. The truth is that I am not the sort of person who should have had children.”
—Cecily Ross

Back in the day when print newspapers were still a thing, I used to spend part of each weekend reading my way through the once thick Saturday Globe and Mail, “Canada’s National Newspaper.” I regularly read Leah McLaren’s column, which regaled readers with the lively observations and experiences of an upwardly mobile young single woman. McLaren occasionally got herself into trouble with her confessions. One sometimes wondered why she disclosed the things she did. Did she not know that she was giving out too much information? Did she not care? Or was there perhaps an inordinate need for attention? She drew flak from many quarters, even when she wasn’t indiscrete. Some of the attacks were vicious. She was a woman some apparently loved to hate.

At some point McLaren moved to London, married, and had children. I believe she still writes for some Canadian papers and magazines, but I’ve not really followed her career since I stopped reading The Globe. Since Canada’s population is small and the celebrity pool tiny, however, you really don’t have to make much effort to get wind of someone’s upcoming book or an event, and McLaren, it could be argued, is a minor celebrity here.

For reasons I don’t fully understand, she’s now written a memoir that focuses on her relationship with her mother, Cecily Ross, who is herself a writer. A few years ago, Ross wrote an absorbing and well executed novel about English-born Susanna Moodie, an early Canadian female literary figure (who was also the focus of an early collection of poems by Margaret Atwood). Ross is clearly a creative but difficult woman, who has evidently had her struggles with turbulent emotions. Had she been of a later generation, it’s likely that the childhood trauma she experienced —the “central defining event” of her life (but not the only cause of her troubles)—would’ve been handled in a very different way by her parents. Possibly, too, she would have felt freer not to go down the domestic road—marriage and children—at all. Some people should not become parents. Unfortunately, they usually aren’t wise enough to know this in time.

As it turned out, the main event in Cecily Ross’s life and her emotional turmoil impacted a lot of other people, as her daughter’s memoir shows. I went into this book entirely cold, knowing none of the details. Even so, I was less surprised than I expected to be by McLaren’s revelations about her upbringing in general or her mother in particular. Where families are concerned, I think messiness and dysfunction are the norm rather than the exception, but there are obviously degrees of dysfunction. The family described in this memoir certainly isn’t the craziest one I’ve read about.

McLaren writes that her mother’s childhood trauma cast a shadow over the family she created with Jim McLaren, whom she met in high school and wed soon after. It’s hard to disagree. To cut to the chase: in the summer of 1964 when Cecily Ross was 12, she was raped by her 45-year-old instructor at the Caledon Riding Club. “The Horseman” was a married man with four children, two of whom were older than Cecily. He was, McLaren acerbically writes, “a man who broke horses and girls, taking his pleasure where he could.” Viewing his attentions as evidence of his devotion, Cecily continued to meet with this predator—even after her father had caught the two together in a cottage on the family farm, sent the man and his family packing, and grounded his daughter for three weeks. In the fall, the girl was picked up after school by the Horseman and taken in his truck to the woods. She believed she was in love with him. This went on until she was fifteen, at which point she angrily broke things off. She’d discovered she was not the only one.

According to McLaren, Cecily’s experience was an open secret in the Ross family, a story Cecily herself told “in countless iterations and contexts, to therapists and husbands, friends, lovers, family, including me. She’d written a thinly veiled novel based on the story, which she despaired of getting published. Later . . . [she] publish[ed] the story in a magazine.” McLaren acknowledges that the pedophile’s physical violation of her mother was “not nearly as complicated or lasting as what he did to her mind, which was, perhaps, to create a kind of confusion, a set of limitations, when it came to her ability to love or be loved.” The author also admits (in what I took to be a tone of barely controlled fury) that the story of the abuse was used by her mother to explain and excuse “all the circumstances of my childhood.”

McLaren documents those circumstances in her book, focusing primarily on her experiences after her parents’ divorce, when she was eight and her sister, Meg, was six. The girls lived mostly with their father (and, for a time, with his pathologically rule-oriented girlfriend as well). They occasionally stayed with their mother, who’d become a reporter for a local newspaper. Some might describe Cecily’s parenting (or lack of it) as benign neglect. It’s true that the micromanagement of children’s lives, helicopter parenting, can be harmful, and that a hands-off approach is sometimes beneficial . . . but neglect? Can it really ever be benign? According to McLaren, she not infrequently was left to look after her little sister, even when Meg was ill. There’s also a disturbing story of Cecily’s maltreatment of a family pet, which I found distressing and enraging to read. Later, at the age of thirteen, Leah would move to Toronto where her mother had relocated. By the age of fourteen, she was living an unsupervised, “feral” life; she could be out all night, even when a serial rapist—the depraved Paul Bernardo—was on the loose, and her mother would think nothing of it. There were few rules and even fewer personal boundaries (hence the title of the memoir). Anything could be discussed, including the details of Cecily’s multiple “disastrous affairs.” Leah was confidante and comforter. Theirs was more a sibling than a parent-child relationship. Psychologists would identify it as a classic example of “enmeshment” a.k.a. “emotional incest.” In fact, a fellow student at the arts high school McLaren attended introduced her to the term, and she subsequently looked it up in the school library:

emotional or covert incest. Def: A type of emotional abuse. It occurs when a parent consistently violates the normal boundaries between themselves and child. Sometimes called “enmeshment.” In an emotionally incestuous relationship, a caregiver depends on the child for support. This reverses the norms of parenthood and means that the child has to prioritize the needs of the adult.

The memoir sometimes shifts forward from childhood and youth to 2020 when the author travelled from London to New York for a “girls’ weekend” with her mother. This was when the matter of the memoir was broached with Cecily and McLaren announced that she had a book deal.

It is not entirely clear to me why Ms. McLaren wrote the book. Possibly, it’s because she has always written about herself and Cecily was an oversized part of her life. Her mother claims in her 2020 Literary Review essay that Leah saw the story as “great material” and “even as a chance for us to connect.” A friend of mine has opined Leah wrote it for the money. Whatever the reason(s), it is evident from reading it, that the violation of the body and psyche of a child casts a long shadow. The psychological harms end up impacting all those close to the victim, including her children.

This memoir has understandably created controversy. Was it right to air the story of a family in this way? It’s hard for me to imagine being a person who’d want to publicly share material of this kind. I don’t believe McLaren actually does “appropriate” her mother’s story—Cecily Ross had already told it in 2020 in the Literary Review of Canada, after all—nor does she provide graphic details or sensationalize it in any way. What McLaren does do is give an account of what it was like to be Ross’s child—along with providing some of her characteristic oversharing. (I could have done without the details of the author’s sexual history and question why so much attention was given to it.) Would it have been wiser for McLaren to wait until after her mother’s death for this painful and brutally honest book to go out into the world? Probably. However flawed Cecily Ross may be, I believe that the publication of the memoir during Ross’s lifetime is not kind.. But if the book were withheld until after McLaren’s mother’s death, the audience the author possibly most wanted to reach would be gone. ( )
  fountainoverflows | Aug 9, 2022 |
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"A daughter's riveting, devastating portrait of her relationship with her mother, a brilliant and charismatic woman haunted by childhood sexual trauma. When an eight-year-old Leah McLaren's parents get divorced, her mother, Cessie, flees her conventional life as a suburban housewife in search of a glamorous journalism career. In the chaotic years that follow, with her daughter in tow, Cessie lurches from one apartment, job and toxic romance to the next. Their bond is loving but also marked by casual indifference. Cessie's self-described parenting style of "benign neglect" is a hilarious party joke and Leah's stark reality. Their family motto, "Commitment sucks the life right out of you" is tacked up on every rental fridge. Inside the shelves are empty. During Leah's first year of high school she becomes gripped with anxiety following a troubling early sexual experience at a party. Cessie, in turn, makes a disclosure that will alter everything: from the age of twelve to fifteen, she was in a clandestine relationship with her middle-aged, married riding instructor. The damage inflicted by the "Horseman," Cessie explains, is the reason for all her ill-conceived life choices, including marriage, divorce and even motherhood itself. Both women will spend decades haunted by the specter of the Horseman, until they decide to investigate what became of him--an ill-conceived quest that will test the bonds of love and redefine their relationship forever. Written with searing candour and merciless wit, Where You End and I Begin is an intimate exploration of the ways intergenerational trauma is shared between women, and how acts of harm can be confused with acts of love."--

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