Skinny Dipping in a Dirty Pond
by Lis Anna-Langston
Mapleton Press

"In the end everything is okay. If it’s not okay, then it’s not the end."

Cotton, the narrator in this fictionalized memoir, grew up in a family whose communication consisted of secrets. She didn't know who her father was. Her mother was a drug addict and undiagnosed psychotic personality who disappeared when Cotton was eleven. She often lived with her grandmother and two schizophrenic uncles, whose "Voices" tormented them to violence and absurdity, filling Cotton with abiding fear. An invisible dog-man, a neighbor who prayed hours a day, and her mom's drug-dealing boyfriend were Cotton's best friends.

Cotton's barely rational preteen age (the book covers ages seven-eleven) provides a whimsical, safe, and accepting lens through which to observe a crazy upbringing. Money buried in the backyard because banks can't be trusted, sleeping wherever and whenever fatigue hits, and calling Time and Temperature to hear a pleasant, orderly voice are described as part and parcel of Cotton's experience and invite readers to enjoy episodes at face value.

After chapters about an extended trip to the library due to unreliable transportation, a botched beauty pageant, and drinking illicit soda while holed up in a Mexican hotel during a drug deal, Cotton's grandmother's death marks a climactic turning point. As Cotton talks to friends and school administrators about her home life, curt dialogue shows characters groping to communicate unspoken truths. The real and hurtful effects revealed in the second half balance the innocent treatment of the first half's events. Later in the book, commentaries on food and TV shows are a welcome and comic reprieve. The author admits in an epilogue that the happy ending, more fiction than fact, expresses the healed spirit of Cotton's real adult life, leaving questions open for readers to ponder long after finishing the book. One child's vulnerability and resilience to forces beyond her control make a raw and colorful splash in this tenderhearted memoir.

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