The Twenty-Seventh Letter of the Alphabet

The Twenty-Seventh Letter of the Alphabet
University of Nebraska Press, 2018
An intimate portrait of the chaos and confusion of a mother's mental illness and a deep meditation on storytelling itself, The Twenty-Seventh Letter of the Alphabet chronicles a daughter's struggle to face the Medusa of generational trauma without turning to stone. In this uniquely structured memoir, Kim Adrian tries to make peace with a troubled childhood 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.
A Next Generation Indie Book Awards finalist.

“This ambitious memoir glints with poetry and wisdom. . . . Aching, endless, unresolved, and extremely compelling.” —The Los Angeles Review of Books

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

“Deceptively simple fragments add up to more than the sum of their parts. . . . [Adrian's] 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

“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.” —Hippocampus

“Adrian’s writing remains hypnotic on every subject, a consuming plunge into each and every moment” Tin House

“Adrian’s unique approach to narrating a story that resists order is to transform it into glossary entries. . . . Some of the entries are long and provide pages of narrative, others are brief like a punch.” Signature Reads

“A remarkable rendering of a mother-daughter relationship . . . sprinkled with evocative memories, at turns hilarious, repulsive, poetic, and devastating.” —Propeller Books

“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

excerpt ▼

Whenever I see my mother by chance in cafés and gift shops, at the grocery store, or just walking along the street, I think, “She looks better than I thought! She looks fine!” I think, “She’s still beautiful!” I slow my pace to study her in detail, though at the same time I am careful to not let her see me. She is always tall and thin with gray, shoulder-length hair, high cheekbones, and long limbs. All of which makes sense. But there are other details that don’t quite fit, which is why I study her so carefully. For instance, my mother, when I see her by chance, here or there, around town, is always very well dressed, wearing, perhaps, a stylish raincoat or pleated slacks and expensive loafers. Her hair is professionally cut, not riddled with bald spots. Also, she doesn’t hide her teeth behind her hand when she speaks, and when she does speak, she doesn’t do so nervously or for much too long. I notice all these details, and while I recognize that they don’t quite make sense, the illusion remains.

Sometimes, if he’s with me, I’ll grab my husband’s arm and say, “Is that my mother?”

“Are you joking?” he asked once.

Another time, not long ago, I was walking with my children in the little commercial center of our town when I spotted my mother in a gourmet ice cream shop. She was sitting with her back to the window, reading a Nadine Gordimer novel, slowly picking at a cup of chocolate ice cream. I stopped to study the slope of this woman’s shoulders, the nape of her neck, and the beautiful paisley shawl draped around what appeared to be a fine, hand-knit sweater. Isabella asked me what was wrong, and I said, “I think that might be Mormor.” She said, “That is not Mormor.” I asked if she was sure and she said, “Do you really think, if that were Mormor, she’d just be sitting there all calm, reading a book and eating an ice-cream?” I said no, probably she wouldn’t be doing those things. But I was still reluctant to leave and remained planted in front of the window until Isabella said, “Mama, it’s not her,” and pulled me along.

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