THE TWENTY-SEVENTH LETTER OF THE ALPHABET

THE TWENTY-SEVENTH LETTER OF THE ALPHABET

University of Nebraska Press, 2018

A stunning merger of form and content. —David Shields

Growing up in the New Jersey suburbs of the 1970s and 1980s, Kim Adrian spent her childhood ducking for cover from an alcoholic father prone to terrifying acts of rage and trudging through a fog of confusion with her mother, a suicidal incest survivor hooked on prescription drugs. In The Twenty-Seventh Letter of the Alphabet Adrian, now a mother herself, tries to make peace with this troubled past by cataloguing memories, anecdotes, and bits of family lore in the form of a glossary. But within this strategic reckoning of the past, the unruly present carves an unpredictable path.

REVIEWS

"A story with a shadow half. This ambitious memoir glints with poetry and wisdom...aching, endless, unresolved, and extremely compelling... The glossary is a clever choice of form. Like mental illness, a glossary impedes forward momentum (if one is compelled to flip forward and back), but it also provides a logic that real life doesn’t offer... The structure allows different truths to exist at once... Adrian’s novelistic attention to scene works...her prose is lyrical and funny, often in the same moment." —The Los Angeles Review of Books

"A feat on many levels. Adrian tells a harrowing story, surprisingly redeemed by her own sweet family, but in many ways also continuing. She gives it meaning without having answers to all the questions she still asks herself. Her work as glossator is astonishing and inventive. Her glossary is strangely gripping, with a momentum pulling the reader in and through. The result is whimsical, even darkly funny at times, brimming with compassion, terribly sad and deeply loving. Memoir readers should not miss this singular offering." Shelf Awareness

"Details, with precision, sensitivity, and lyricism, the specialized language of a childhood and adulthood with an alcoholic father and a mother with a catalog of emotional problems. The form imposes a semblance of order, is an attempt at understanding, and blazes with harrowing moments (the three-year-old Adrian seeing her mother’s first suicide attempt, “the blood, the razor blade”; the incest and physical abuse her mother suffered; the lifelong tug and push between daughter and mother). The book is an intimate and searching accumulation of the moments, tender and brutal, that heap together and create a life." The Boston Globe

"Adrian uses a highly unconventional form to mirror her confusion over how to connect her wide-ranging, frequently painful memories of what she and her sister endured living with a mentally ill mother and an alcoholic and violent father... Despite the heartbreaking pain of the stories Adrian shares, she remains clear-eyed about what she remembers, providing minute details in ways that bring her scenes to life while also creating deep connections between the reader and her childhood self... Despite everything, Adrian still loves her parents. By sharing her conflicted feelings in such an intimate way, she helps the reader see not only that love, but its indelible impact on the identity of a woman still wrangling with how to define it." —Hippocampus

"Adrian’s unique approach to narrating a story that resists order is to transform it into glossary entries. The story is told through an alphabetical list of terms—from Abecedarian to Zigzag—in which she jigsaws together the bits and pieces of her experiences in order to create this beautiful reckoning. Some of the entries are long and provide pages of narrative, others are brief like a punch." Signature Reads

ENDORSEMENTS

“A stunning merger of form and content; a remarkable portrait-becomes-self-portrait; and something like a master class in complicity.”
—David Shields, author of Reality Hunger

“The Twenty-Seventh Letter of the Alphabet is a revelation. By structuring the book in the unconventional form of a glossary, Kim Adrian allows the reader into the very intimate mechanics of her memory. Each page I read pulled me deeper under the book’s peculiar spell. Through Adrian’s rigorous attention to detail I found myself involuntarily drawn into her perspective, both as a child and a grown woman, hungry to make sense of this troubled family, and this vibrantly unstable mother.”
—Alysia Abbott, author of Fairlyand: a Memoir of My Father

“A vivid, vibrant glossary of a life. Adrian’s sharp prose and unique form combine to illustrate how powerfully our childhoods reverberate throughout our lives.”
—Dinty W. Moore, author of Between Panic & Desire

“This is desperately serious work, an exacting memoir that excavates, with compassion for all involved, the harrowingly repetitive patterns of abuse as well as moments of something like hope, crushable and delicate, thwarted, and yet renewable. An agonized, beautiful, unflinching account.”
—Lee Upton, author of Visitations: Stories

EXCERPT

Read an excerpt published in AGNI magazine

RELATED PRESS

• The 27th Letter of the Alphabet: A Conversation with Kim Adrian in Tin House
• An Interview with Kim Adrian in Washington Independent Review of Books
Kim Adrian on Listening to What Our Nonfiction Is Trying to Tell Us on LitHub

An intimate and searching accumulation of the moments, tender and brutal, that heap together and create a life.
The Boston Globe