Friday, June 11, 2010


Fierce: A Memoir by Barbara Robinette Moss
Simon & Schuster October 2004
Hardcover, 256 pages
ISBN-13: 9780743229456
nonfiction, memoir
highly recommended

From the Publisher:
[A] compelling memoir about a single mother determined to break the patterns that she has been taught.
Barbara Robinette Moss grew up in the red clay hills of Alabama, the fourth of eight children, in a childhood defined by close sibling alliances, staggering poverty, and uncommon abuse at the hands of her wild-eyed, charismatic, alcoholic father. In Fierce, Moss looks at what happens when a child of such a family grows up [...and] paints a vivid, moving portrait of her persistent quest to reinvent her life and rebel against the rural indigence, addiction, and broken dreams she inherited from her parents.
With warmth, insight, and candor, Moss tells the poignant story of finally leaving everything she knew in Alabama to fulfill her ambition to become an artist.... As with many other children of alcoholics, the legacy of her father's alcoholism catches up with Moss, and an abusive relationship — an inheritance and addiction of its own sort — threatens to destroy all that she has accomplished. Ultimately, Fierce is a warm, honest, and triumphant story, from a writer celebrated for her Southern lyricism, about a woman determined to make it on her own — to shrug off the handicaps of her childhood and raise her son responsibly and well.
My Thoughts:

I haven't read Moss' previous memoir, Change Me Into Zeus's Daughter, which apparently provides more back story about her childhood and is more highly acclaimed than this follow-up work. Fierce does stand alone, however, and you needn't read the first to appreciate the second. Even though her life circumstances could lead many people to self pity, Moss never goes there and keeps the tone matter-of-fact. Several events are memorable. (I appreciated the garbage can story. For many readers, the neighbors involved will resemble a strict home owner's association and people like that are found all over.)
The writing is not complex. There were times when the sharing of her story felt a bit disjointed, as if she hadn't quite reached a truly deep understanding of some of the events in her life or perhaps therapy and healing has softened some of the hard details in the re-telling. Many of the stories of her childhood seemed to be in sharper focus than the more recent events. This could be simply the difference of looking through the eyes of a child versus an adult. It could even be that after writing the first book which dealt with her childhood, this second part of her memoir lost some of the immediacy and drive to share her life history. I did struggle a bit with really understanding Moss' choices (her attraction to abusive men) but that's due to my background. Adult children of alcoholics will perhaps appreciate Moss more and have a greater understanding of her poor choices. It was nice to know that her life has reached a place of healing from her past and she is in a healthy relationship.
Highly Recommended, but it might be better to read her first book before this one


I thought about the night before. Dad had come home from the bar at 3 A.M. and gotten everybody out of bed to clean up the house and cut the grass. The police came and made my brother Stewart shut off the lawn mower. After they left, Dad yelled at Mother for not making Stewart cut the grass earlier that day. pg. 5

We got married at the chapel out at Fort McClellan. Dad was supposed to give the bride away, but the military police at the front gate arrested him for public intoxication. pg.14

He escorted me up the stairs to our second floor apartment, unlocked the dead bolt on the door, let me in, and locked it again. Through the door, he said, "I'll be back tonight. Late. Don't wait up." pg. 16

Instead he snatched the clothes out of my hand and tossed them to the ground, then grabbed my upper arms and shook me as hard as he could, snapping my head back and forth. "What did you think you were doing?" he shouted. "I've told you a thousand times! Never leave without my permission, and nobody comes in the house when I'm not home! Who else has been there?" pg. 23

Her eyes drifted to my swollen belly, to the bruises on my arms, and then back to my red-streaked face. "Why don't you go home to your mama?" pg. 25

Dad worked hard all week and celebrated every Friday night at the American Legion. Weekends felt like war zones. pg 35

I should have left a dozen times over, but I couldn't afford to. As the years passed, the transgressions grew. Like the TV evangelists, Clayton had such a special relationship with God that he was exempt from the strict code of moral behavior he imposed on the rest of us. By the time my second marriage ended, I felt so diminished that the spark in my own soul was in mortal danger. pg. 44

It was true that Stewart drank like Dad, much worse really, but I thought that maybe it was the heartache he'd inherited more than alcoholism. I recognized the heartache because I inherited it too; I didn't know how to soothe mine either. pg. 82

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