Sunset Sanitarium: The Writing on the Wall
by Allison Price
Trafford Publishing

"That’s how our family existed – Don’t talk, keep your mouth shut. Feelings and emotions are how we learn about each other, life, and love."

This intense memoir begins with the author’s recollections of her troubled family life, as remembered through the rearview mirror of psychoanalysis. The reader follows along cautiously, awaiting gruesome details. The Irish father drinks and becomes physically abusive, claiming to teach the oldest and next son with poundings and kicks. The mother murmurs that everything is all right, likely to protect the young author from drawing her father’s attention, too. The daughter is traumatized as she looks on helplessly. It is child abuse of a different kind, and her paternal "Grammy" becomes her solace.

Chapters seven through ten tell the background story as the author recalls happier days, with locations, people, and normal experiences of childhood. Price shines at this kind of storytelling. Every detail draws the reader to remember similar events or to wish at least that they had been experienced, too. The reader hopes for a happier ending. But at this house, with “Sunset Sanitarium” painted by the oldest son in white on a brick wall, even close family relationships end sadly.

Price has clearly learned the meanings and explanations for terms of analysis. These she pours out in the first chapters almost as a barrier to protect herself from further wounds. One doctor helped validate her as a separate member of a troubled family. He became the author’s first real friend, and she repeatedly quotes his advice. Confused by her church, Price was able to accept help from the higher power of the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Without such support, it is unlikely she would have been able to write the loving tales of family and adventure that fill the middle of this 196-page memoir. Instead of deep friendships, only family secrets last. Her talent for creating lovely paintings and poems shines through all to cheer readers.

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