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STORY BEHIND THE BOOK

With ‘Memory Eaters,’ author Elizabeth Kadetsky releases family secrets

david wilson (custom credit)/David Wilson for the Boston Globe

For 10 years, Elizabeth Kadetsky worked on a series of essays about her childhood, growing up with a charming, model-turned-astrologer single mother. Writing them, Kadetsky said, was “partly a coping mechanism” while her mother descended into Alzheimer’s, and “partly a way to avoid working on a sustained narrative.” Kadetsky, who teaches creative writing at Penn State, was also working on a more linear book. Still, she said, “the essays just kept coming as a side project.”

It was clear they all fit together. “I had an aha moment, “Kadetsky said, “when I realized the book was about forgetting as much as it was about memory.” The result is the lyrical, memoir-in-essays “The Memory Eaters,” its title a nod to Homer’s Lotus Eaters; a verse from “he Odyssey” serves as the book’s epigraph.

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“The central question that I’ve had since the beginning,” Kadetsky said, “is why was my mother so distant my whole life, why did she seem so traumatized, and why did she have these amnesias? The theme of forgetting — all of these disparate essays all just kind of clicked in together.”

All families have their secrets, well-honed stories hiding or eliding past traumas. Kadetsky’s mother, remarkably open with her daughters about most topics, was closed-mouth about two: the affair that ended her first marriage, and the brief life of her younger sister. The mysteries became stories the author was drawn to.

“I was always just writing things down,” Kadetsky said. “That’s just the role of any writer in a family. This is our material, and we’re working on it.”

When Kadetsky’s mother died, an astrologer remarked that her death chart revealed the release of trauma and bad energy. That resonated with the author. “I think the act of writing memoir is the act of making conscious family cycles that have been unconscious for years, decades, centuries.”

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While Kadetsky’s Brookline Booksmith reading was canceled, her book can be purchased at the store’s website: brooklinebooksmith-shop.com.


Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.