I picked up Susanna Sonnenberg’s memoir Her Last Death in the bargain bin at Border’s and it was one of my better finds among the myriad of books.
The book opens with a phone call in which that Sonnenberg learns that her mother, who lives in Barbados, has been in a horrible car accident, and there is a good chance she is going to die. The story is about her decision to not go to her mother and why. There is too much history, too many lies, too many faked illnesses and almost deception about dying. She just can’t go through it again. Her real life, with her husband and sons, has weight and meaning, but her mother fictional life just wasn’t Sonnenberg’s real life anymore.
The book continues to tell the story of Sonnenberg’s manifestation of what she believes her life was like with her mother. Her mother is addicted to painkillers, has a cocaine habit, engages in uncontrolled, irresponsible sex tryst’s, and could almost certainly be diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Growing up at a young age, Susy how her mother lost her virginity, watches her mother having sex with a stream of bizarre men, and learns that sex is power and money equals independence.
Susy has a very early strong interest in sex and she becomes fascinated with Penthouse magazines and almost fanatical with the development of her body and masturbation. Her mother acknowledges and condones Susy’s problem telling her simply “Go on, my little pervert. We have no secrets.”
When this behavior extends into Susy’s life during college and in the early years of her adulthood, it really becomes quite exasperating. She is used to being used, to feeling empty, to lying and being lied to, and it seems that she is going to continue the cycle her mother modeled so graphically.
Her Last Death is ultimately about the buoyancy of the individual spirit; it is also about how strongly the messages we collect as children profile our outlook. Sonnenberg’s writing is immediate and razor-sharp. She pulls you into her experiences and her point of view from the very first page, and she is not afraid to confront those topics that are upsetting, complex, and illicit.
It is really hard for me to judge this book as a like or a dislike because I felt sorry for Susy from the first page. The book touched subjects usually left alone by authors. I am giving this book five stars because of the way it evoked such emotion and how well written it was.