Flat and Unemotional

Veronica's Grave: A Daughter's Memoir - Barbara Bracht Donsky

I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


I always feel a little guilty giving a memoir a low rating. Unless the memoir is poorly written the lowest rating I’ll give is 3 ½ stars, even then I’ll only go as low as 3 stars. With that said I could only rate Veronica’s Grave 2 ½ stars and I didn’t hesitate one bit. I found this work not only to be poorly written, unemotional, and it also made me quite angry.


To start off, the author chose to eschew the use of dialogue tags. Cormac McCarthy said, “There’s no reason to blot the page up with weird little marks. I mean, if you write properly you shouldn’t have to punctuate.” and “You really have to be aware that there are no quotation marks, and write in such a way as to guide people as to who’s speaking.” Fair enough, if you have enough skill as a writer to write dialogue without the aid of dialogue tags, do so. The author did not have the skill to pull this off.


The dialogue between two characters runs together in one paragraph, leaving the reader to try and decipher who's speaking and in some cases whether or not a specific sentence was actually verbalized. In one instance, Barbara is having a discussion with a nun and she seems to have developed telepathic powers. The way the sentence is written, it gives the impression she's reading the thoughts of the nun. It was only after I had gone back and read the sentence two or three times, I realized that Barbara had actually spoken. The entire book read like this and it was exhausting.


Possibly because of the poor writing, I found a lot of instances where the author would refer back to something her father or mother said or did, that I couldn’t remember reading. She mentions several times near the end of the book how her father forbade her from mentioning the death of Veronica to her little brother Eddie. I couldn't remember an instance where it’s explicitly stated that she cannot mention her mother died. I even flipped back to the beginning of the book and skimmed to see if I could find this. Did she just infer that from her father telling her to call his new wife mother or was she told to hide the death of her mother? If it was just this one instance I’d be inclined to think that she was specifically told to lie about her mother and I just missed it, but this is repeatedly done throughout the memoir. She mentions conversations that she had or incidences that occurred in her life as a mere afterthought and it left me feeling like I had skipped huge chunks of the book or just wasn't paying attention.


I can forgive a poorly written memoir, but I found that the overall work was written with little emotion. For a work that claims to deal "with loss at a young age" and "offers the reader a clearer, more optimistic perspective on life" it felt dry and distant. The book blurb offered a story of hope and overcoming adversity, but the text didn't deliver.

I already wasn’t feeling any warm or fuzzy feelings towards this book and then I read this:


"Survivor's tales -- be they from those incarcerated in brutal prisons, concentration camps or shipwrecked at sea -- point toward the brain's ability, when under stress, to retreat from the unrelenting fears and find sanctuary in memories drawn from more hospitable times. The memory of that morning at 2180 Ryer Avenue ... was such a sanctuary."


Nope. No. No. No. No. No. No. The author just compared her childhood to being imprisoned in a concentration camp. Days later, I still can’t come up with a coherent response to this that isn’t just a bunch of curse words. Her experiences growing up are in no way similar to being in a concentration camp and to even think, for one minute, that they can in any way compare is just …


If I hadn’t already been at the 90% mark I would have put the book down at that point. I continued on however, and I read about how hard the author had it growing up with a dead mother and a distant father. Once again, this was all relayed to the reader by telling not showing. The entire book was just flat. I may have enjoyed it, if it had been better written or some emotion had been injected into the memoir, but as it was I could only give it 2 1/2 stars.