Tuesday, April 24, 2018

NO WAY HOME :: Tyler Wetherall

A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is reprinted here with permission.

Tyler Wetherall is spending her 12th birthday in St. Lucia with her father and older sister when the ever-looming phone call comes—authorities have tracked their fugitive father to his not-so-secret location and the girls need to escape back to their mother in London immediately. In No Way Home: A Memoir of Life on the Run, editor and creative writing instructor Wetherall artfully shares her life in pieces—from early days living as something resembling a family unit to adolescent years filled with secrecy and surveillance while separated from her on-the-run father and finally her adult efforts to learn and come to terms with the family legacy.

The first half of Wetherall’s memoir reads like emotionally-exhausting spy fiction. By age nine, she has lived in thirteen houses in five countries on two continents, yet knows nothing of fake identities or legal problems. Reliving the accounts of the three siblings as they begin to suss out the family secret is thrilling and gut-wrenching. Filled with clandestine phone calls, dark sedan tails and surprise visits from black-coated authorities, Wetherall, a journaler from a young age, infuses her early memories with a riveting presence of thought and perception.

Neither Wetherall nor the reader know her father’s true story until after his arrest. Aided by his 300,000-word prison treatise, Wetherall reveals the ongoing saga behind the screens her parents employed to protect their children. Although lacking the emotional resonance of Wetherall's childhood account, her father's impact on the relationships, dynamics and paths of the family lends completeness to an undeniably fascinating work.

STREET SENSE: In a memoir worthy of the big screen, the author shares insight and details into her family's life on the run as her father is pursued by the FBI and Scotland Yard. A breath-taking first half slows down in the present-day retelling from the author's father's perspective, but the whole is an incredibly worthy endeavor.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  While on the run, Mom used to travel in a floor-length pink fake fur coat. She argued that no one could suspect a woman dressed so outrageously of having anything to hide. She looked formidable with her five-foot-ten-inch height in a blaze of fuchsia topped by her now-blond cropped hair, yet so thin, the brittle birdlike bones in her neck pushed tight against her skin, making her look like a sorrowful bird of paradise.

(Here's a bonus quote since I loved Wetherall's mother and this is some of the best life advice ever: "Mom said it was important to do laundry badly or people might expect it from you, and if a man ever asked us to iron his shirt, we should immediately burn a hole through it, so he'd never ask again.")

COVER NERD SAYS: I found this cover somewhat intriguing despite a color palette that doesn't really speak to me. It does speak to a broken film frame, which I appreciate, but for some reason that pinkish color at the bottom does me in. Totally subjective, I'm just not a pink person and for me it doesn't evoke all the great stuff inside this book. I also thought the subtitle should, in this case, have been a bit bigger, since it's the pull and the payoff. Apparently I'm cranky(er) today, as this cover is really quite fine, just not in my wheelhouse. I'd still pick the book up from a display table, so the artwork did its job, even on this curmudgeonly non-pink person.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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