book review: Why Not Say What Happened?

Title: Why Not Say What Happened?
Author: Ivana Lowell
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (October 19, 2010)
Category: memoir
Rating: B+

Of course well-known families are often said to have a “curse.” It is a handy way to excuse generations of entitlement, self-indulgence, and general bad behavior. It is also much easier to attribute alcoholism, madness, and suffering to something supernatural. If I am “cursed,” then I am not responsible for my own fuck-ups.

She’s from a wealthy, titled family [Guinness heiress, her maternal grandmother is the Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava] so why should we care about a memoir by Ivana Lowell? For me: I adore memoirs; I’m an anglophile; I like fine and fancy things plus the literary and acting worlds of which Lowell is a part; and Lowell writes with candor as if she’s addressing a friend over tea. Refreshingly unapologetic.

Why Not Say What Happened? is hardly a throw-away memoir but delves into the darkness of alcoholism that ravages the wealthy with equal fervor as anyone else. Usually the wealthy can get better treatment for addictions, of course. Lowell’s mother, Caroline Blackwood, lived a fast, booze-filled, pugnacious life. She was a writer, was married three times and had numerous affairs. The memoir chronicles an intense mother-daughter relationship. I could relate to this as I talk to my mother every day and if I were an heiress or millionaire, my mother would live in a guest house on my property.

I knew I had been very close to my mother, “unhealthily so,” some people, including my sister, had warned me. But I wasn’t prepared for the absolute, icy cold feeling of bereftness, of suddenly being a stranger in my own life. Nowhere seemed safe or normal or recognizable anymore. I no longer had any sense of home, because in her own shambolic, heartbreakingly inadequate way, Mum had always been home.

In addition, Why Not Say What Happened? is the story of a woman searching for identity and familial connection. Her entire life, Ivana Lowell believed that her mother’s second husband, pianist and composer Israel Citkowitz, was her father. Citkowitz died when Ivana was very young and poet Robert Lowell, Caroline’s third husband, adopts her. After her mother, dies, Lowell suffers an identity crisis of sorts.

Why Not Say What Happened? is immensely provocative and colorfully written. Lowell provides the detail and the insight into an oft-coveted, mysterious lifestyle that in actuality took rather painful digressions.

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purchase at Amazon: Why Not Say What Happened?: A Memoir

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