Published Reviews & Press
Review of This Never Happened (Liz Scott)
When memoir is done well it has the capacity to invoke a far deeper connection than fiction. In memoir, you understand these characters are alive or at least once lived. It becomes not just a story, but a relation of memory, a communing of remarkable vulnerability. Liz Scott, in her memoir This Never Happened, does memoir remarkably well.
“I’ve come to believe that all of this—the facts about your ancestors, the truth about your family story, the reliable connections—are what create ballast in a life.” This ballast is not something Scott has at the outset. It is not something her parents provided for her. Thus Scott’s search for ballast among the wreckage of her lived familial experiences becomes the book’s central concern.
There is fire here, sometimes fury, always an unquenchable love for her parents, whatever disaster they might have caused in their mystery, avoidance of truth, and difficulty. Told in vibrant vignettes that leap forward and backward through time, what might become a jumbled mess instead serves as a rapturous metaphor for the meaning-making the human mind visits on past experience. Answers do not arrive in a linear fashion, breadcrumbs do not lead to a specific destination. The work of piecing together a broken upbringing requires pieces spread across the floor. It requires patience. Eventually, it blooms into something resonant and unforgettable.
To explain her investigation, her obsession with making sense of her parents, Scott notes, “How irresistible the need for parental approval. How enduring!” To explain the frustration she meets at many junctures: “We are all opaque to each other to some infuriating degree.” Her vulnerability in this exploration is perfectly poised, notable for how much she is willing to expose while never letting the exposure take away from her ultimate search for meaning. Her love for her parents is obvious. The love never devolves, however fire-tested we understand it to be by the end.
Her tale generally alternates vignettes (or a series of them) between ruminating on her mother, her father, or both of them at once. Further elevating the possibilities inherent to things that actually happened, Scott makes the deeply personal choice to include familial ephemera throughout. Sometimes photographs, other times letters she wrote to her father, once her mother’s resume (much of which we are told to doubt), the tale arching to emotional highs when she includes letters written between her parents that provide insight into the unworkability of their marriage while yet deepening the mystery of who her parents were, how they attempted to make sense of themselves and their commitments. I could read an entire book of just their letters, so engaging is their content. The ephemera is not window dressing here, it is glassed into the window, inseparable from Scott’s writing.
Beyond the vignette style, Scott employs other unconventional techniques for a memoir, some chapters using only one line to communicate their content, others formed into lists, another reading partially as a transcript of a phone call between her and an insurance officer following her mother’s death. I, as reader, am kept always on my toes, never certain of what she will share next nor how she will share it. She knows what she is doing, letting us in on the secret: “This is not an autobiography. It is not a coherent, reliable story of a life.” But I do see it as reliable. It is reliable because it is her story and there is no one else to tell it. She continues, “What I have instead is a chronicle of emotion and cathexis.” I would argue her “chronicle of emotion” is as important and reliable as any cold history through what it allows us to see and what it asks us to examine.
Somewhere near the middle she admits, “As an adult what I have craved is answers.” The reader craves answers too. But the craving and the finding often do not hold hands. Whatever answers Scott finds by the end, it’s obvious she will never find all that she might wish to know. It is too late for many things. The details and stories of This Never Happened nonetheless go to show how vital it is that humans look for answers. That we embark on such endeavors.
This is a love letter to the search, a celebration of family and trying to make sense of family, including the ways they cause pain and turmoil. This is the pinnacle of a genre. A book for which all future memoirs I will wonder, comparing in my mind, “yes, but does it come anywhere close to being as good as Liz Scott?”
This Never Happened is published by University of Hell 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)