Dead People and Mysteries

I just finished reading Monica Holloway’s first memoir, Driving with Dead Peopleand I’ve been sitting here for fifteen minutes trying to figure out how to write about the book without including any spoilers.

Not an easy task with this book since the last chapters hit me hard.

Near the end of the book, I wondered how I missed it all. On reflection, I guess it’s because the book is that well-written.

You’re going to love this one as the narrator’s voice is engaging, but if you don’t like to read dark memoirs, then it might take a frightening turn for you. If you venture on, you find that your journey has value, and that Holloway is courageous.

Holloway tells the story of her childhood, growing up in the midwest. Her father is cruel, and at first her mother seems as much a victim as the four children. Then Holloway’s mother goes to college and gets the courage to leave her husband. Emotionally, she turns her back on her children as surely as if she had completely abandoned them.

Her obsession with death and dead people keeps Holloway going throughout these years. Her best friend’s father owns a funeral parlor, and she gets a job driving dead bodies for him. She haunts the graveyard.

Additionally, the passion (different from obsession) that gets Holloway through it all is her love of and talent for acting. She eventually earns an MFA in theatre from the University of California, San Diego. She builds a life far from her Ohio roots.

But the path is not without great difficulty. The family has been destroyed by the behavior of the parents. Her closest sibling, the oldest sister, has been particularly damaged. But so has Holloway herself, and it’s only at the very end of the book that she discovers just how much.

From this memoir I learned that writing a memoir can be like writing a mystery. In this type of memoir, the writer can’t give away all the critical information up front as the story needs to develop in its own time. But clues need to be embedded throughout the narrative so that when all is revealed, even if the reader is shocked, she will see how inevitable the events were. She won’t feel that the writer was playing games, withholding just for the sake of sensation. Holloway creates a suspenseful, seamless story using this technique.

Holloway has published a second memoir, about the relationship between her son, who is autistic, and a dog.  Here is a book trailer for this book:

Cowboy and Wills looks charming, and I am putting on my to-be-read list.

If you want to find out more about Holloway or about the third memoir she is currently writing, check out her website.

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41 Comments

Filed under Book Review, Books, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing

41 responses to “Dead People and Mysteries

  1. The way you describe this book, I want to put my hands in front of my eyes and take a peek between my fingers.

    • Luanne

      Hah, yes, that’s it! It’s a seriously good read, and I have a lot of admiration for Holloway, but you have to have some courage to move forward to the end.

  2. You’ve got me curious why Holloway is obsessed with death and dead people. Sounds like a book I would have to read during the daytime, Luanne. Great review!

    • Luanne

      Hahaha, that’s funny, Jill. Actually she makes a sad story humorous and engaging; it’s only in the last portion of the book that it becomes dark and I had to swallow down the lump in my throat.

  3. What a job that was – driving the dead people. But I guess someone had to do it.

  4. Once again you have me wanting to temporarily put down my suspense thriller and go check out – yet another – memoir, Luanne. It’s officially on the list!

    • Luanne

      I’m so glad you’re going to read it, Shel. It’s a powerfulstory. And it’s very thought-provoking about a lot of important issues for women and families.

  5. *weeps at video*
    Good post, Luanne.

  6. Luanne, this author and her memoirs are new for me. I am intrigued by your review. Looking forward to learning how she unfolds her story and keeps the reader in suspense. Thanks.

    • Luanne

      Rudri, I can’t wait to read “Cowboy and Wills” to see what her viewpoint and mind are like coming out of that background and focusing on being a mom.

  7. Adding this to my to be read list as well. Thanks Luanne!

    • Luanne

      Faith, this is such a layered book in some ways. So many things to think and feel as you watch the family come apart and get an inkling for how strong Holloway is becoming.

  8. Good post Luanne! The book sounds interesting…memoir is difficult to write but often cleansing for the writer.

  9. This sounds like a great read – I am going to put this on my wishlist for sure. Love your reviews!

  10. You could give a course on memoir writing, Luanne. Maybe you already do? The reference to the fascination with death put me in mind of a short story by Barbara Gowdy called “We So Seldom Look on Love”, one of the strangest pieces of fiction I’ve ever read. Creepy and yet you truly get inside the mind of the odd main character who is an assistant embalmer and feel some empathy. Anyway, I digress. This one sounds like it might not be my cuppa as such stories tend to get into my mitochondria and stay there.

    • Luanne

      S, the redeeming nature of the ending of this book is how Holloway heals herself and I love that her story continues with the book about her son that I want to read. She’s a survivor, and a graceful one. Because of that, she’s an inspiration. I haven’t heard of the Gowdy book. That does sound creepy. I’m sure I would like it. I actually would have adored it even more when I was younger. I liked creepy characters, like the protagonist in “The Stranger” and the one in “Crime and Punishment.” I am less inclined to like to put myself in the mindset of a sociopath these days . . . . I’m not saying your embalmer is a sociopath. An embalmer certainly doesn’t have to be a sociopath. Right?

  11. Suspense … memoir. I guess whatever genre of writing you’re doing, suspense is a key element.
    You give great reviews. 🙂

    • Luanne

      Oh thanks, Carol. That’s sweet of you to say. I think suspense is terribly important. That said, there are some pieces that are descriptive that are so immersive that I don’t mind the lack of suspense. But for the most part it’s what drives me as a reader.

  12. I love books that throw you for a loop! I’m reading “The Night Circus” (fiction) right now, and everyone’s told me the ending will make my jaw drop in surprise. While reading a non-fiction, the surprise can be even greater because it’s hard to imagine someone going through what the author has!

    • Luanne

      Uh oh, I better put that book on my list! I agree about nonfiction. I think I expect that a writer can do whatever they want in a work of fiction, but in nonfiction it better be true so if it’s a surprise, WOW.

  13. This is very entertaining, your review in and of itself, Luanne! I have a few more moments to check back one of my favorite posts: Yours! I think that the way she is fascinated by the dead seems to be a great way to embed the details, first she has terrible parents, then her best friend’s father is a mortician, and … more to find out, if we read the memoir. This was well written without giving away too many details! Great one, so hard to imagine her life…

    • I popped back to see if you had a comment, so I could respond. It is so hard to keep up on responses! Take care and hope you have a wonderful and special holiday, Luanne! Hugs, Robin

      • Luanne

        Robin, yeah, it’s been a tough week, let me tell you. Way too much work at work. I guess that’s why they call it that . . . . Thank you so much, Robin. You’re a wonderful blogger friend!! xo

  14. You are brave to read such book and write a review. It would be for me like accepting a commission for drawing an object that is out of my comfort zone. Brave you.

    • Luanne

      Paula, what an interesting comparison. Yes, I can see what you mean. It’s good for us to do things out of our comfort zones every now and then, but it’s also good to know what we are good at, too!

  15. What a teaser! After that review, you know I have to add Holloway’s book to my TBR tower 🙂

  16. Pingback: History, Headstones, and Helter Skelter | Writer Site

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