Page 45 Review by Stephen
After last month's slice of mistaken faux-autobiography in the form of THE RED MONKEY DOUBLE HAPPINESS BOOK review, here's a delightfully double-layered slice of autobiography combined with faux-biography. Confused? Well, fortunately I'm not this time but the author, poor Laurie Sandell, was very confused indeed when as she began to enter adolescence, she started to realise much of what her beloved father had told about himself was total fabrication. Certainly he didn't have six degrees nor a PhD. He never was a Green Beret, he never won the Purple Heart, nor indeed did he actually serve in Vietnam. And he certainly wasn't friends with Pope John Paul II, Henry Kissinger or engaged in secret work for the CIA. Not to mention the supposed duel to the death in his native Argentina...
Taking up the story as an adult, then, Laurie finds out he does, however, seem to be rather good at obtaining credit cards in other people's names, including at one point her own. As Laurie's confusion and disenchantment over her father's lies grows, so do her difficulties over a search for a stable identity of her own. Hence dabbling with being a stripper in Tokyo, a lesbian femme fatale in Israel, before finally settling on prescription-medication-addicted celebrity reporter.
It's no wonder that, when called upon to interview said celebrities, she quickly finds herself identifying with their lack of a real sense of self, and indeed they themselves with her. When 'new best celebrity friend' Ashley Judd recommends a rehab clinic she's there like a shot, only to find it's not quite the glamorous retreat she envisaged. Still, it forces some painful and necessary introspection, not just about herself and her on-off relationship with her long-distance boyfriend but also the nature of her love-hate relationship with her dad. In true LaLa-Land style it would seem she needs to learn to forgive him before she can forgive herself. But that's made rather more difficult by her understandable uncertainty as to whether he's just delusional and mentally ill, or in fact a cunning and duplicitous conman. In fact, I would suggest probably he isn't even sure himself.
It's very clever and very honest writing from Sandell who is now a highly regarded journalist. The saddest parts to read are not actually the hurt she clearly feels from her father's behaviour, or her own conflicted and self-damaging patterns of behaviour that she's apparently trapped in, but the fact that she seems the only member of her family able to confront the situation at all. The others would all much rather pretend it's not happening, not cause a fuss or embarrassment in front of the neighbours. In fact her decision to write about her father is a real sense of tension for the family, particularly her mother, who can't understand that it's probably the only way Sandell is ever going to be able to come to terms with the lies she's had to live through, the difficulties in functioning normally which her father has caused her, and to ultimately find some peace of mind for herself.