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.
“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 “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 “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

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“I just remember the Dairy Queen,” says Tracy. She and I try to talk every weekend, long distance: Boston to Chicago. Through the lace shawl I’ve draped over our bedroom window, the sun scatters irregular polka dots across the bed I share with my husband.

“What do you mean the Dairy Queen?”

“Before we went to the bakery on Sunday mornings, Dad and I used to stop to get ice cream. That’s why it took so long.”

“It did take a long time.”

“Oreo Blizzards. I just remember those. I don’t know how you keep all that other crap in your head. All those memories.”

“I don’t know how you don’t.”

It’s something we often discuss, my sister and I—the different ways we remember our childhoods. “There are worse,” says Tracy, and she would know, having taught social studies in a Chicago city high school for nearly two decades, to students who have crack addicts for mothers and convicts for fathers, kids who get pregnant or shot dead before they’re halfway through freshman year. But I, for whatever reason, have always been clear about this: that time, those years—our childhoods—sucked. On this, I am adamant.

Of course, we had very different childhoods, as siblings invariably do. For example, Tracy was my father’s favorite. I was my mother’s. Tracy was barely a year old at the time of our mother’s first suicide attempt, while I was three and saw the blood, the razor blade, and the paramedics firsthand. Tracy wasn’t quite two when our mother left us, and when she returned, Tracy was four, while I was already six. Beyond that, our natural temperaments are in many ways almost opposite. Those temperaments were often parsed by our mother, who liked to say that Tracy was athletic and I was artistic, Tracy good at math, I at English, Tracy practical and happy-go-lucky, I dreamy and oversensitive. Tracy, she often said, was easygoing but I was incredibly stubborn. If Tracy wanted a lollipop, she’d joke, you could promise to get it for her the next day and never hear about it again. But I have always had (as my mother still occasionally puts it) “the memory of an elephant.”

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