book by Lee Montgomery
annotation by Chris Geraci
Of all the memoirs I have read, The Things Between Us, is one of my favorites. Beside the fact that I did an internship with Lee Montgomery at Tin House Books, her story is engaging without being preachy and at no point does Lee ask for sympathy or forgiveness, and Lee is just an all-round amazing person. Her writing is just like her personality, no bullshit, the truth is the truth, take it or leave it. As a result, Lee Montgomery the person and Lee Montgomery the author is real and believable. To me she is a bit of a rock star.
Lee is extremely gifted in her use of descriptive language and concise storytelling. She takes a story of alcoholism and family dysfunction, doesn’t trivialize it, but finds the humor in it. Through tragedy and loss, her family comes together and bonds over the life and death of Lee’s father. Although, it is clear her father is her hero and that she is her father’s daughter, her mother steals the show (the book), with her gregarious personality combined with her excessive drinking.
Clearly, there is a heavy dose of admiration for Mrs. Montgomery by the people who know her. She reminded me of a 30s Hollywood Starlet: glamorous, commands attention, is adored by those around her, and a hopeless alcoholic. What is refreshing about Lee’s tale is that she is clearly aware of her mother’s personality and flaws, but there is no anger or blame, just acceptance that this woman does love her, but is severely flawed. Lee writes, “I will never be able to explain my mother, but I will most likely spend my life trying. She is the rock in the road that I navigate around.”
Lee also has respect for both her parents, especially her father, Monty. Monty is the gatekeeper of Lee’s mother. Despite countless drunken episodes, Monty stands by her unconditionally. Even when the focus should be on Monty’s health, Lee’s mother steals the show. But courageously, Lee writes about the truth, the pain from her point of view and acknowledges that the memories and stories are hers and vary from her siblings take on the same set of events. Lee epitomizes what we have learned about being true to your story, your characters, and the memories; stay committed to the truth and your story will be raw, emotional, and very real. A memory or an event can inspire a variety of interpretations, which are still true, just your version of the truth.
What Lee does so well is her attention to the visceral details, combined with her talent for lessness. Her narrative technique is sparse, Lee chooses each word carefully, and her talent as a frank storyteller is apparent – it is also a reflection of her personality, no sugar coating the truth. Lee’s memoir contains an excellent example of interweaving stories, guiding the reader smoothly between past and present without losing her audience. The result is one that compels the reader to turn the pages in order to see what happens to these beautifully flawed characters. Not only does Lee command the craft memoir writing, she creates scenes that are so clear and concrete – as she walks through the fields with her father, you can see the morning steam arise from the grass. Her mother’s constant accessory, a crystal glass with booze is so real that you can hear the ice clink when it it is dropped into the glass. Although the heart of this story is about a sad dysfunction, Lee creates an acceptable distance that as a reader it does not feel sappy or overdramatic, it is just sad. Through this journey of familial decline, Lee creates a picture of her mother that is gregarious and fun. Despite the fact that Mrs. Montgomery is an alcoholic, you still like her. It is a masterpiece filled with flawed, but likeable characters. The Things Between Us is quilt of memories woven together in an exceptional memoir.