The End of the World As We Know It

 By Robert Goolrick

How do you construct a memoir when the defining moment of your life happened at age four? Robert Goolrick’s book, The End of the World As We Know It, stems from being raped just once by his father who was drunk. The writing has been described by Susan Cushman, co-director of the 2010 Oxford Creative Memoir Conference in Mississippi, as the “most powerful, dark, poetic prose.” The essence of the post, Writing Memoir: Art vs. Confessional, was that memoir writers write to reclaim a part of their life, but ultimately “it has to be about the art.”

In lauded Southern style Goolrick relates stories about his quirky relatives with odd nicknames. And in Southern tradition (think Prince of Tides), for his parents, especially his mother, appearances were everything. Like Faulkner, this author makes use of stream of consciousness, writing highly emotional, complex sentences, one of which goes on for three pages.

But the dark secret they shared—it was his mother who interrupted the rape and then told her son to hush up—was why they rejected him and, ultimately was a catalyst for their alcoholic demise. Goolrick writes, “And they had born in them that night, both of them, a fear of me, of each other, of the world of illusion they had created and themselves believed in with all their hearts.”

In that the author’s family was laidback Episcopalian with a strain of stiff-necked Presbyterian, I don’t feel it’s inappropriate to quote the Bible where Amnon raped his sister Tamar and then hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. 2nd Samuel 13:14-15
Wasn’t it Amnon’s guilt and fear that brought about his hatred?

My only criticism is with the pathos of Goolrick’s conclusion: If you don’t receive love from the ones who are meant to love you, you will never stop looking for it. . . You will look for it and you will never find it. You will not find a trace. Although early childhood trauma can, and more often that not does have lifelong effects, there are countless survivors of the most heinous acts who become accomplished, loving adults and beloved parents.

After Goolrick puts his father’s ashes in the ground and stamps down the dirt (at the beginning of the book) he says, “I had thought the rage and the hatred that Southern men can feel for their fathers, a rage and hatred so old and terrible they can’t be described, I had thought it would all be lifted from me and I would feel free. It wasn’t. Not for a goddamned hour.”

Does childhood trauma determine destiny? What is your experience? Is forgiveness a key to wholeness?


Filed under Memoir musings

2 responses to “The End of the World As We Know It

  1. That’s a very big question. Thanks for the review, and drawing my attention to this book.
    I think early childhood trauma of that sort does cause lifelong permanent damage. Not to say that a survivor cannot go on to live a full life and become a loving parent themselves. But just from a neurological aspect, trauma to the brain when it is developing alters the actual biology of the brain. That person will almost always perceive things differently from people who did not sustain early emotional injury.
    I think it informs destiny but does not determine it. For myself, I do not feel that forgiveness is a tool in my personal healing kit. For others it works, for some it does not. I think there is a lot of pressure to forgive. Alice Miller, the child psychologist, spoke of having empathy and compassion but that forgiveness as a concept is sometimes damaging. But to each their own.

    I am looking forward to reading the book, thanks again.

    • Thank you for your informed and thoughtful response, Roxanna. As I get further into my own memoir, I agree. I know early childhood trauma has had a profound effect on my life, and it wasn’t nearly as brutal as the one in this book.

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