I don't know why I bought your book in the first place. I don't read memoirs very often and I knew nothing about you at the time of its
release. But as it gathered momentum and rave after rave started appearing I also noticed that many of our mutual friends on Twitter whose tastes I trust were writing excitedly
about it and urging people to read it. I gathered that it had something to do with art and addiction, with family dynamics and a young woman from a broken home trying to
navigate the world. Enough to spark my interest since I have great interest in these things.
Of course it proved to be as hard to put down as the most compelling novel. After finishing it—and picking myself off the
floor—I thought I would write a review of Negative Space. However, it had hit me in such a visceral way, and I read so many reviews and interviews with you, that I didn't think I could add anything other than a pale shadow of the many well deserved expressions of praise you've already received.
To begin with, it would have been very difficult for me to maintain sufficient objectivity to write a proper review. Your story contains so
many elements that younger people than I would call relatable, that much of my piece would have consisted of repetitious phrases like "Yes, this!" and "I know exactly…"
and "OMG! Same here!"
Despite many differences—I'm an older white male, Texan/southerner, relatively happy middle-class upbringing until adolescence, et al.—we
have many things in common. We're both children of addicts and divorce (with dead fathers) who spent, in fact are still spending, many years trying to sort the facts from the
errors, mistaken assumptions, faulty memories, and outright untruths about our deceased fathers. I think it's hard for even the best adjusted children from the happiest possible
family backgrounds to fully come to terms with their parents as they themselves move into adulthood. Throw in addiction, divorce, premature death (and how often these things
occur together or overlap), and the picture becomes greatly tilted.
Even some of our external circumstances are similar. My father was an alcoholic, though his condition didn't fully reveal itself until I was
already away in college. I don't know if he kept it well hidden or if it was a slow growing variety. (He passed it on to me as his forebears had done to him and my version also
went from unseen to "manageable" to full blown over the course of many years.) He too died prematurely and suddenly from the consequences of his addictions (he was a heavy
smoker) after three years of sobriety, leaving me with a very confused picture and many questions. He was also an Episcopal priest, not an artist but in an equally specialized
and unusual occupation. I got to see him work every week and his liberal and questioning faith had a tremendous, largely positive impact on my character and my way of relating
to the world.
I don't know how much his alcoholism contributed to my parents' divorce when I was fifteen. I do know he had other emotional problems
stemming from generations of mental illness (which I also share), family dysfunction, and disappearing fathers. My mother was awarded custody of me and my two siblings, but for
some reason they let me choose who I would live with. I decided to live with Dad, ostensibly so my schooling and friendships wouldn't be disrupted, until I left for college.
(There's an entire essay's worth of material about this chapter of my life and I don't want to piggyback my memoir onto yours, so I'll leave it at that for now.) Your
descriptions of the feelings and even some of the incidents of moving physically and emotionally between your parents rang powerfully true for me.
Even more, your attempt to make sense of your father's life and to recreate a full, fair, accurate picture of him without halo or horns
resonated strongly with me. I know the emotional dynamics between sons and fathers are very different than those between daughters and fathers, but the oversized, even god-like
role fathers play in our lives makes a full and realistic assessment of the human behind that role challenging to say the least.
The truly unique element of Negative Space and the one that added a great deal to its power for me is the catalog of many of your
fathers' artworks. Your work sent me to find out more about Joe Schactman and I discovered that while not well known today, neither is he totally obscure and was in fact quite
highly regarded during his life. Your secondary mission to collect and preserve as many pieces as possible and your recent gallery display of his work are nearly as fascinating
as your personal story.
At this point, Lilly, I'm going to say congratulations on your remarkable book and express my profound gratitude for it, and now turn to my
other readers. To learn more about Lilly Dancyger and read excerpts from this book and other writings, visit her website: https://www.lillydancyger.com/
Then order Negative Space: https://bit.ly/3iO9zSo