I picked this book up at a second-hand book sale to raise funds for Guide Dogs for the Blind and it has sat on my shelf since October unopened. This morning I picked it up to read the first few pages whilst I was running a bath and read right until the end.
Stories about families fascinate me. I didn’t have what you could call a conventional childhood and so I have an almost prurient interest in what happens in other families, particularly dysfunctional ones. Rachel Sontag illustrates perfectly just how easy it is for everything to go badly wrong for some families.
This memoir is written in a way which never seems to exaggerate the psychological abuse Rachel suffered at the hands of her father but at the same time leaves the reader in no doubt about how damaging this was. Of course this kind of abuse is the hardest to detect, the hardest to reason with and the hardest to do anything about. Steve Sontag played his part in public (mostly) and appeared to be a hard-working, funny, Jewish doctor but behind closed doors, and often in public places his sheer unreasonableness, the lectures dressed up as life lessons endlessly repeated and the damaging way he viewed her every action continued until Rachel was at breaking point . I say was, because ultimately this is a positive book, Rachel had the strength of character to live her life and this book is her story of how she did so.
Families are complicated, no two operate in the same way and there is often a cast of many, whether that cast is separated by distance or emotions all have a part to play. Rachel tells the story of her ‘monster’ of a father but also the story of her ineffective mother and her ‘invisible’ sister. A story where all the normal relationships were turned on their heads as these three tried in their own way to avoid being the one who Steve Sontag noticed, as being noticed was never good in this household.
A good book to read for those who want an insight on how a certain combination of parents can be catastrophic and that psychological abuse is no less damaging for the lack of broken bones.