Sunday, January 24, 2021

Book Review: The Part That Burns, a memoir by Jeannine Ouellette


Jeannine Ouellette’s memoir in fragments, The Part That Burns, reads like a shattered mirror that the author reassembles as you go, pulled forward by writing that’s precise and beautiful both in its parts and as a whole.

Often when I read I mark sentences that shine, soar, stop me in my tracks with their potency. A good book usually has a handful, a great book more than that. This book has so many it’s hard to pull them out. I searched for a line or two that I might share here, but find myself highlighting entire paragraphs. Beyond this, the fragmented structure Ouellette employs to tell this story is itself masterful and compelling. 

Ouellette spans the time between her own childhood and motherhood, sharing potent memories of herself as child, daughter, mother, and the places in between, as well as the intersections between all these selves. I think again of mirrors, the ones in the fun house at the fair, where you see many reflections from many angles, some distortions of who we are, some closer to reality, but all real in that place in time, from our perspective as we look at what we see in the panels around us.

Make no mistake: this narrator’s voice is clear and true, and you’ll want to know where she goes next. You’ll hold your breath at times, and you’ll pull for her to reach her destinations safely.

A story of childhood sexual abuse, a story of a girl who journeys and survives, eventually thrives, this is not the usual memoir with this subject at its core. It’s a map of the path this narrator took, not in sequence, but the way you would hear it if she told it to a friend, or a therapist, in remembered pieces, so you come to the whole almost by surprise, with a little gasp of wow as you see where she ends up. 

Very highly recommended.