Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit
Review: 'Kin,' by Shawna Kay Rodenberg
AP

Review: 'Kin,' by Shawna Kay Rodenberg

{{featured_button_text}}

"Kin" by Shawna Kay Rodenberg; Bloomsbury (352 pages, $28)

———

Reading Shawna Kay Rodenberg's "Kin" is like watching anything made by director David Lynch.

After each sentence, paragraph or turn of the page, I expected the likes of the Lady in the Radiator from "Eraserhead" to show up, all puffy-cheeked and singing eerily about heaven, or any of the backwards-speaking characters in "Twin Peaks." But "Kin" is not someone's too-surreal-to-be-believed nightmares written for the screen, but someone's living nightmare detailed in a memoir.

The horror of Rodenberg's life begins within The Body, "an end-times wilderness community, cloistered in the woods of northern Minnesota," which her father joins when "he was red-eyed and mad with fear, following his tour of duty in Vietnam."

Her family leaves behind a life in Kentucky, with its accompanying possessions and people, for a spare existence near Grand Marais, where Bible study ("Our family was bilingual, and Bible was our second language") and traditional roles are upheld. Mostly Rodenberg tries to evade her father's wrath, which she blames on herself, as children do, because she "found being good impossible."

Misery in myriad forms dogs her, and refuge is difficult to come by, but Rodenberg finds it in art, music and books, particularly the work of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Despite the prohibition against possessions, she is given a set of the "Little House" books as a birthday present and reads them over and over again, eventually realizing that Wilder was "unlucky in life until she began writing her own story."

But Rodenberg doesn't keep to her own story. She intersperses third-person accounts of her mother's life in Kentucky and her father's before he went to Vietnam, including pages — perhaps too many — of letters he wrote to his parents while he was stationed there. The change in perspective is jarring, heightening the surreal aspects of the book and emphasizing its Southern gothic aesthetic.

Ultimately, though, the alternating chapters provide context and feed Rodenberg's overarching theme about how stories repeat in families, that lineage "wasn't about the past, like people often thought, so much as the future, and no matter how a person might try to trick destiny, most people ended up as carbon copies of their parents and even ancestors they never knew."

With its focus on religion, a father figuratively blinded by its tenets and his own pain, the fallout from growing up in an unstable environment and the attempts to overcome it, "Kin" begs comparison to Tara Westover's 2018 memoir, "Educated." Westover's work is much more optimistic, however, despite the horrors inflicted by her Mormon survivalist parent. The odds may have been long, but Westover's ending has a Hollywood quality. There is no such feeling in "Kin."

Even though Rodenberg strives for a tidy ending for herself, obstacles keep popping up. And why shouldn't they? Life isn't neat, and she leans into that, digging deep with dense but readable prose and providing compelling insights. Besides, her life doesn't end with the memoir's last page. There's always more to be said. Here's hoping she will.

You must be logged in to react.
Click any reaction to login.
0
0
0
0
0

Stay up-to-date on what's happening

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

There are so many things Mena Suvari never wanted you to know. And there were ghosts of her past all over this town, willing to keep her secrets. Like the woman she ran into once at Whole Foods — a woman with whom she'd had a threesome. “I was mortified, because I was famous then, and she knew me when I wasn’t,” recalls Suvari, one of the most popular young actresses around the turn of the ...

Few people have had as much to say about the American diet as Mark Bittman. Between his bestselling cookbooks, four television series and 30-year run covering food for the New York Times, Bittman, 71, entrenched himself in America’s kitchens. But his latest tome goes further than teaching readers what to eat and why. With a multi-millennial sweep, he uses cuisine to track the evolution of Homo ...

The Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen brotherhood of man mission continues. “Renegades,” the podcast collaboration between the former president and the Boss has been repurposed and will be released as a book this fall. “Renegades: Born in the USA,” the book adaptation, will be released Oct. 26, Penguin Random House announced on Thursday. The 320-page tome will retail for $50 and include ...

NONFICTION: This enthralling memoir recounts the lifetime work of a marine biologist trying to see into the dark depths of the oceans. "Below the Edge of Darkness" by Edith Widder; Random House (352 pages, $28) ——— Bioluminescence is one of those words, six science-sounding syllables, that might make some readers back away slowly. Such hesitation would be a shame, however, if it stops anyone ...

FICTION: This thriller hinges on the allure of fast riches and the perils of misplaced ambition. "Godspeed" by Nickolas Butler; Putnam (352 pages, $27) ——— It's not hard to understand. Three buddies struggling to keep their Wyoming construction business afloat get a call from a California lawyer who wants them to finish building her mansion, and they think: This could be "the house that would ...

FICTION: An insightful, impeccably written historical novel about an influential New Yorker's stunning demise. "The Great Mistake" by: Jonathan Lee; Alfred A. Knopf (304 pages, $25.95) ——— Jonathan Lee writes engrossing novels about public tragedies and private dilemmas, fusing vivid character studies with understated humor and aphoristic turns of phrase. The 40-year-old Brit's latest, a ...

“Secrets of the Force: Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Wars” by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman; St. Martin's Press (576 pages, $29.99) ——— The Force was not with him. The studio didn’t understand his script. The crew thought he was an idiot. Even his friends thought he was making a mistake. But George Lucas made “Star Wars” anyway. And it made him and remade Hollywood. ...

NONFICTION: Revealing the truth about just who fought California's wildfires. "Breathing Fire" by Jaime Lowe; Farrar, Straus & Giroux (320 pages, $27) ——— In February 2016, Shawna Lynn Jones was 45 days shy of completing her three-year sentence in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) system. Along with other incarcerated women, she was part of a ground crew ...

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

News Alert

Breaking News