GPL Blog

Book Review | Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey

From the Publisher: At age nineteen, Natasha Trethewey had her world turned upside down when her former stepfather shot and killed her mother. Grieving and still new to adulthood, she confronted the twin pulls of life and death in the aftermath of unimaginable trauma and now explores the way this experience lastingly shaped the artist she became.

The story of Greek priestess Cassandra isn’t the most well-known of ancient tales. In an effort to woo Cassandra, the god Apollo gave her the gift of clairvoyance, but when Cassandra turned down Apollo’s advances, he turned that gift into a curse: she could see the future, but no one would believe her prophecies. When Natasha Trethewey was a young child, her father gave her a similar gift: the nickname Cassandra. “It was as if, in giving me that name, he had given me not only the burden of foresight but also the notion of causation — that whatever it was, if I could imagine it, see it in my mind’s eye, it would happen because I had envisioned it.” When Trethewey was 19 years old, her former stepfather broke into her mother’s home and killed her. Memorial Drive is Trethewey’s account of her childhood and how her mother’s murder seemed to be inevitable — because she had envisioned it.

Never clinical, Trethewey expertly weaves a compelling narrative, intertwining her childhood fascination with mythology into the devastating story of her mother’s death. Memorial Drive is focused, never a simple recitation of life’s events, but instead a poetic tale from a specific perspective; it’s no surprise that Trethewey’s other published works are poetry collections. The memoir shines in its detail, sticking to the specifics of her mother’s story. The work has been compared to Jesmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped, but where Ward’s collection of memories was broad and involved people throughout her life, Trethewey’s is focused and clear because of its brevity.

Trethewey may have envisioned the trauma that would occur in her life, but she also always knew she would be a writer. At the end of the work, Trethewey describes the catharsis that writing Memorial Drive brought her: “Even my mother’s death is redeemed in the story of my calling, made meaningful rather than merely senseless. It is the story I tell myself to survive.” Trethewey has one of the strongest voices of writers today, and her talent for storytelling makes Memorial Drive one of the foremost memoirs of recent years.

Memorial Drive is available for checkout at the Galesburg Public Library.