A big thank you, David Godkin, for such thoughtful comments. Especially when you don’t know me, you’ve gone out of your way to write a full review!
David Godkin, Toronto, ON
I normally write about poetry. I make an exception for a rather fine memoir by local writer Sheila Tucker. Rag Dolls and Rage, a memoir by Sheila E. Tucker. DLT Productions, 231 pp
Sheila E. Tucker is a very good storyteller, so good I have to wonder why we haven’t heard more from this Oakville, Ontario writer. Part of my interest in Rag Dolls and Rage is that it is very personal writing that manages to enliven the otherwise one dimensional, episodic structure endemic to memoir and overcomes an ever present danger that the author’s feelings may not be ones the ordinary reader is likely to have had or wish to spend much time with.
Rag Dolls is blessedly free of overwrought moments or false steps. It’s a well-paced, well controlled page turner of a book that happily dispenses with the “literary” impulse that sidetracks so much of contemporary memoir writing. Instead, Tucker obeys one of two guiding principles of Aristotelian dramatic poetry: action, and more particularly action underpinned by individual, life-altering choices.
In sum, the book is about what people do, how they act for good or ill, towards themselves and to others: the sexual abuse of a young girl from an otherwise trusted adult; coolly observant family members coming to the rescue uncowed by conventions around privacy; social distancing a la 1950s style from school mates, and the particularly vicious treatment only children of a certain kind can administer, enabled by dim witted teachers.
For readers who have or have not experienced emotional or sexual abuse our attention in Rag Dolls is rivetted by the sheer brutality and incomprehensibility of sins rendered against children. More than this is what a young life sabotaged can mean for the remainder of that life. Self-doubt, mistrust of others, lingering feelings of displacement and alienation from the world around us.
Harder still is the sense that one is fundamentally unlovable and because of this is unable in turn to love. When trying to understand the full ramifications of emotional and physical abuse, it seems we’re just scratching the surface. That’s why writing like Tucker’s is so helpful. She has culled from a great many other experiences the one theme central to this part of her life. She’s written with precision and care. She has been guided by feeling – without allowing feeling to overwhelm the trajectory of her story and the gradual understanding that comes with her experience.
A first-rate reading experience. May we have more, please?