Monday, June 8, 2015

After Awhile You Just Get Used to It: A Tale of Family Clutter by Gwendyolyn Knapp

Gwendolyn Knapp is only in her thirties, but her colorful family and personal relationships have already provided enough fodder for a memoir. After Awhile is the story of Gwendolyn, her sister Molly, her mother Margie, and her stepfather John. Of course, there is a host of other family members and the occasional love interest that pepper her life with stress and shenanigans.

Knapp grew up in Florida where she lived with her packrat mother and overachieving goth sister, as well as her mother's extended family. She begins by introducing us to her stepfather, John, and her grandparents. She hits the ground running with sudden death and a bout of scabies. And things only gets worse from there.

As she regales her teenage years, I experienced a certain nostalgia, since we're about the same age. Reading about her music choices and high school experiences made this time in her life seem, well, normal to me. Her stories seemed filled with an appropriate amount of whimsy and dysfunction that many people (myself included) have experienced in one form or another. I began to wonder where all this was headed, and if I should consider writing my own memoir...

During an eventful Thanksgiving we meet her Aunt Susie and uncle Ricky, a heartbreaking couple with real problems, but let's be honest, they made the holidays memorable. Then she describes plenty of other family gatherings that involve multiple strangulation attempts and lots of squirrels.

Knapp eventually ends up in New Orleans. Although she's a bit farther from the influence of her family, her adult life is full of one dimensional characters with little redeeming value. At this point in the book, I began to notice Knapp's negativity in how she views people. Take her boyfriend Robin, for instance. She describes him as an artist who doesn't bathe, take her anywhere, and has bean bag furniture. But her description is more matter of fact, as opposed to critical. She goes on to describe a doctor's appointment where the doctor only wants to talk about an upcoming vacation. Even after the doctor compliments her boots, Knapp reveals they are atrocious, as if to say the doctor was being disingenuous. She describes another encounter where someone compliments her dress and she explains it's a two dollar thrift store atrocity.  At this point, Knapp's knack for turning even nice gestures into something negative begins to grate on me. 

Even her description of where she and her family traveled for vacation (at the mid-point between the world's crapiness and despair) depressed me. And to make matters worse, her mother and stepfather eventually join her in New Orleans. After a family reunion and another failed relationship, it seemed not a lot had changed and Knapp's negativity was still a big part of her life. She was still struggling to make ends meet and keep herself sane. 

So a mixed review. I felt her struggles weren't any bigger than most people's, although perhaps she has more patience and creativity to get them on paper. I was a bit exhausted and left wondering where Knapp's life was headed. I guess I was hoping for some great revelation on her part, or a success story. A moral, perhaps? Some tidbit to leave me with? When she didn't offer any, well, I suppose it was fitting, and by that time, I had just gotten used to it. 

Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for a review.

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