Published Reviews & Press
A Celebration of Small Press and Self-Published Books
“Book Review: This Never Happened”
reviewed by Jaylynn Korrell
A tug of war between compassion and resentment.
The trauma our parents cause us isn’t always easily resolved in a therapy session. This Never Happened, a memoir by Liz Scott, exemplifies just how long those wounds can stay unhealed.
A woman now “in [her] eighth decade,” Scott writes this book as a glance back on the foundation that started her journey. With emphasis on figuring out her past, she tries to come to terms with the anonymity that both her parents left of their history. They provided her no glimpse into their own lives and no information about the families they both come from. Left to her own devices, Scott takes it upon herself to piece together their lives and all the things that happened between the silence within her family.
Jumping back and forth in time through small chapters, Scott gives readers a glimpse into her memories. Though sometimes told through major life events like the death of her parents or the breakdown of marriages, it’s the smaller chapters that give me the most insight into her life and emotions. Stories about disagreeing over a jacket on a shopping trip or a frustrating call with the life insurance company illustrate how the small things build up inside of you after a while, and create an armor. Scott mellows out these tense topics with a humor that seems both sincere and much like the way you laugh right before you start crying.
The most compelling part of this life story to me is the addition of letters she found written by or for her parents. These correspondences are varied in time, some having been written before her parents married and some in the midst of their divorce. All are beautifully composed (even in anger) and revealing. It feels almost invasive: me, a stranger, having access to such deeply personal documents. Her father’s love letter to her mother, toward the beginning of their life, feels so pure and touching. The anger written through the divorce holds so much hurt and history. But these letters are what really bring these characters to life, working well in contrast to the chapters that paint them in the light of “parent.” Though Scott is sure to share the many ways in which they’ve hurt her, she does well to give them their voice. It is a dynamic addition, bringing a great balance to the story and showing a fairness in Scott that I don’t always find in memoirs. Through the author’s raw emotions and the rawness laid out in the letters, we get both sides of the story.
This book is filled to the brim with emotions. Scott lays it all out there, bluntly, and doesn’t hold back. Any reader will appreciate the vulnerability on display for Scott to write about the people closest to her in such a revealing and thought-provoking way.
Publisher: University of Hell Press
Book & Film Globe review | This Never Happened
Anyone who didn’t grow up with a narcissistic parent may be baffled in encountering them. Why’s Joe so infuriated by everything his mother says and does? She seems so charming.
However, anyone who did grow up with a self-centered parent knows that there’s no road too low, no lie too bald-faced, no mirror too dingy to repel them.
Liz Scott knows this like gospel. Her memoir This Never Happened details many of the hundreds of horror stories she lived through because of the narcissistic monster who was her mother. At the beating heart of Scott’s book lies her attempts to cope with that mother, and with the legacy of self-erasure she bequeathed. “This is where I live—somewhere smack between pity and rage, between empathy and indictment. And as hard as I look, I still can’t find a place between mercy and pain.”
But Scott’s memoir goes far beyond describing family dysfunction in a relatable way. This Never Happened manages to be a thorough explanation of narcissism and its lasting effects, a daring series of experiments in collage memoir, and an addictive read, all at once.
First, Scott has creatively assembled the text. It bursts with bulleted and numbered lists, correspondence, and photographs, which tell Scott’s family history from as many angles as possible without belaboring the narrative. Second, Scott freely admits that she doesn’t have as much to call upon as many writers of memoir: “This is not an autobiography. It is not a coherent, reliable story of a life.” Scott knows next to nothing about her family outside of her mother, father, and sister. She notes that her memories of childhood are thin and poor. Yet she constructed a thoughtful, entertaining, cathartic, and candid book-length work out of these scraps. That’s a third boon. Scott’s fresh, immediate, and often biting style never turns off the reader.
Scott’s mother, Lee, stands, sadly and appropriately, at the center of the book. Lee clawed and cheated to be the center of everything. She stole Scott’s enjoyment to put herself first in her daughter’s narrative innumerable times, in elaborate ways. One year, she actually prevented Scott’s long-planned guest attendance at the Academy Awards for no reason at all. Scott captures the miserable seesaw of life with a narcissistic parent with both brevity and clarity:
Other elements of This Never Happened include Scott’s absent father and his off-the-charts bitterness, Scott’s multiple bad marriages and difficulties with happiness, and Scott’s sister, who tries more patiently to understand and accommodate their mother. The book incisively depicts a family that’s not a Running with Scissors-type horror, but is certainly dysfunctional. It analyzes parents who’ve left a mark of misery that Scott, having buried them both, raised two children, and built a long career in psychology, cannot scour away.
But a lot of the success of This Never Happened owes itself to Scott’s sense of humor. You can only possibly react to some personalities with laughter or madness. Near the end of the book, Scott reveals that in her mother’s “Valuable Photos” folder, she found pictures of Benito Mussolini. “Fucking Mussolini, naked, hung by his feet, upside down, dead…Fucking naked Mussolini, glossy eight by tens, what the fuck!” At this, Scott and her sister laugh, and then “my sister comes in even closer and says ‘Do you think she had anything to do with it?’”
Scott had a mother so outrageous and unknown that her daughter could, in seriousness, ask if she helped bring down one of the last century’s vilest dictators. When it comes to narcissistic parents, you never know for sure.
(Publisher, April 2019)