Reading Deborah Lott’s memoir of her dysfunctional upbringing feels like the literary equivalent of rubbernecking: her childhood was a series of trainwrecks, but somehow you can’t stop turning around to watch. Lott was the youngest of three children; her mother was stable, but her father, Ira, was excessive. A hypochondriac, a fantasist, a narcissist – the man knew no boundaries, neither physical nor mental. And he made Deborah his sidekick, his confidante, his ally against his wife’s attempts to normalize him.
When her story starts, Deborah is four and the counterman at the post office has just died, and Ira is insisting that since this is her “first death,” she should try to remember it forever. Then she’s in bed with her parents, feeling cozy with her daddy’s hairy chest and his big belly and his “funny” poke-his-moles games, and yes, you feel an instinctive “eeeuw” rising up. But not only is young Deborah notbothered by her father’s casual undress, she is intrigued by problematic aspects of his physique — his deformed fingers and his uneven legs. Before long, you’re in the kitchen with this man, who has decided to create a buffet from canned spaghetti, Hormel tamales, and tinned sardines, which brings up his botulism theories, and before long he’s throwing out one can after another because it doesn’t make a little “pffft” sound when it’s pierced. Even worse, he’s roped Deborah’s older brother into inspecting all the cans, and soon you wonder if they will ever get anything to eat. Actually, not only does Ira eat continually, there’s a terrifying scene in a Las Vegas restaurant, when the rest of the family wants to leave after breakfast so they can explore the casinos, but Ira talks his daughter into eating a second full breakfast with him, just to forestall the family’s foray.
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