Memorial Drive: A Daughter's Memoir

by Natasha Trethewey

Hardcover, 2020




Ecco (2020), 224 pages


A chillingly personal and exquisitely wrought memoir of a daughter reckoning with the brutal murder of her mother at the hands of her former stepfather, and the moving, intimate story of a poet coming into her own in the wake of a tragedy At age nineteen, Natasha Trethewey had her world turned upside down when her former stepfather shot and killed her mother. Grieving and still new to adulthood, she confronted the twin pulls of life and death in the aftermath of unimaginable trauma and now explores the way this experience lastingly shaped the artist she became. With penetrating insight and a searing voice that moves from the wrenching to the elegiac, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey explores this profound experience of pain, loss, and grief as an entry point into understanding the tragic course of her mother's life and the way her own life has been shaped by a legacy of fierce love and resilience. Moving through her mother's history in the deeply segregated South and through her own girlhood as a "child of miscegenation" in Mississippi, Trethewey plumbs her sense of dislocation and displacement in the lead-up to the harrowing crime that took place on Memorial Drive in Atlanta in 1985. Memorial Drive is a compelling and searching look at a shared human experience of sudden loss and absence but also a piercing glimpse at the enduring ripple effects of white racism and domestic abuse. Animated by unforgettable prose and inflected by a poet's attention to language, this is a luminous, urgent, and visceral memoir from one of our most important contemporary writers and thinkers.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member bell7
Natasha Trethewey is one of my favorite poets, so when I saw she had written a memoir I was really excited to read it. This book, though short, packs a powerful punch as the author explores her relationship with her mother, piecing together events that led up to her mother's murder at the hands of
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her stepfather.

Fans of Trethewey's poetry may be aware of the outline of the story, and even those who don't will find out where the story is leading soon. This is a riveting book, reflective and raw, as Trethewey attempts to make sense - this time in prose - of a defining trauma in her life. Reading her memories, her gaps of memory, and transcripts from the trial, I was crying by the time I finished. This memoir touches on issues such as race and domestic abuse, all through the prism of a daughter's love for her mother. I'll be recommending it far and wide to my library patrons.
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LibraryThing member kidzdoc
Memorial Drive is a busy thoroughfare well known to Atlantans, as it is a major street that runs from Downtown Atlanta in the west to Stone Mountain in the east. It is also where the award winning poet and former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey lived with her mother, Gwendolyn Ann Turnbough,
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an African American woman from Gulfport, Mississippi, after her mother divorced her husband and Natasha's father Eric Trethewey, a White Canadian from Halifax, Nova Scotia, when Natasha was six years of age, in order to seek a new life. Her parents met and fell in love as undergraduate students at Kentucky State University, but the miscegenation laws in Mississippi at that time did not allow them to marry there, so they took their vows in Cincinnati and returned to the Magnolia State for Natasha's birth and childhood upbringing. Turnbough's family warmly accepted the new members of the family, but the deep seated racism from Whites in Mississippi in the late 1960s and early 1970s helped to slowly disintegrate the bonds of the loving couple, and led to their eventual divorce. Trethewey stayed with their mother, although her father, who became a beloved and longstanding Professor of English at Hollins University in Virginia, maintained a close relationship with his daughter for the remainder of his life.

Turnbough obtained a master's degree in Social Work shortly after she and Natasha moved to Atlanta, and achieved a comfortable middle class life as a social worker and government administrator. She met Joel Grimmette, a Vietnam War veteran, and she soon married him, going against her family's advice to avoid marrying a man without an advanced education and a good job. Grimmette was traumatized by his experiences in the war, was insanely jealous of his beautiful, well educated and independent wife, and was incensed because she did not truly love him, and he took out his anger on his wife and daughter. Turnbough separated from him and sought police protection, but he ultimately found and murdered her in 1985, when Natasha was a freshman at the University of Georgia.

Trethewey taught at nearby Emory University for many years, but avoided going back to Memorial Drive until nearly 30 years after her mother's death. Although she had written about her mother's murder in her Pulitzer Prize winning poetry collection "Native Guard" she could not bring herself to document the lives of her parents, her mother's rebirth in Atlanta and her troubled relationship with her second husband.

"Memorial Drive" is a loving memoir of her parents, who deeply loved their only daughter in a deeply racist and segregated city in Mississippi, a chilling and captivating account of her mother's relationship with Joel Grimmette, and her own struggle to understand why her mother stayed with a man who abused and threatened to kill her for as long as she did. Trethewey does not provide the reader with easy answers to the situation her mother found herself in, or the difficult relationship she had with her daughter, who protected Natasha from Joel's wrath yet continued to support him until it was too late for her to escape his extreme jealousy and mental decline. This page turner is one of the best memoirs I've ever read, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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LibraryThing member Beth.Clarke
Narrated by the author, the audiobook was superb. I could hear the emotion in her voice and it just captured what she was feeling while she wrote this amazing memoir. Beautifully told, heart wrenching at times, definitely a five star book!
LibraryThing member bookworm12
Haunting and heartbreaking, the author recounts the brutal murder of her mother by her stepfather. For those of us who know anyone who has dealt with abuse of any kind, it’s hard to read at times. She has an incredible gift for bringing beauty to descriptions as she works through her grief.

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some versions, Cassandra's fate is that she is merely misunderstood--not unlike what my father imagined to be the obvious fate of a mixed-race child born in a place like Mississippi. ‘She was a prophet,’ he told me, ‘but no one would believe her.’”
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LibraryThing member msf59
In Atlanta, in 1985 the author's mother was killed by her ex-husband. This heart-breaking memoir details Trethewey's childhood and how she dealt with the grief and the loss that has haunted her through the years. The writing is beautiful. I also read and loved her poetry collection, Monument: Poems
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New and Selected.
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LibraryThing member kayanelson
I heard this author speak and she simmers with sadness and raw emotion. She's a very creative person and I am so sorry for her loss, even all these years later.

I listened to this book and think I would have preferred to read it. A few parts on the audio dragged for me.
LibraryThing member hemlokgang
A beautifully written memoir of a daughter losing her mother to spousal abuse. Yet it is so much more than that. It is the story of someone reclaiming their life after tragedy. One of the best opening lines ever summarizes the author's experience. "The past beats inside me like a second heart." So
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true, for each of us!
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LibraryThing member akblanchard
Poet Natasha Trethewey’s Memorial Drive is a brief, evocative book about a murder—her mother’s, at the hands of her deranged stepfather. The narrative starts off slow, but as it progresses, it moves with the inexorable pace of a Greek tragedy. Hard to take, but rewarding.
LibraryThing member villemezbrown
I feel bad for Natasha Trethewey and her family for the terrible murder that stole away her mother much too early in her life, but I never fully connected with this book. I knew I was in trouble when the first sentence kicked off a dream sequence. It's one of several throughout the book, and I just
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could not overcome my knee-jerk negative reaction against that literary device, my biggest pet peeve as a reader.

The book is about half the author describing the circumstances of her mother's murder (including extended transcripts of phone conversations between the mother and the murderer) and half processing her emotions regarding that loss (including an extended sequence of a visit to a psychic). Either the balance was off or the book was too short, because I found myself wanting to know more about her mother and how the events effected her mother's other child, Joey Grimmette. It seems weird that he disappears from the book when the murder occurs. I know the book is about the author's journey, but this omission points to the focus as perhaps being too narrow.

I don't regret reading the book, but I don't think I'd recommend it to others.
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LibraryThing member etxgardener
The mother of poet, Natasha Trethewey was murdered in the parking lot of her apartment on Memorial Dr. in Atlanta in 1985 and this beautifully written book is the poet's attempt to come to terms with not only her murder, but also the life with an abusive husband that led to her killing. It is also
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a poignant story of the love between a mother and a daughter, and the many, many legal inequities that keep women from being protected from violent men.

That Trethewey has emerged from the horror of her early life is a testament to both her strength and her creative powers.
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LibraryThing member whitreidtan
Just under 40% of women who are murdered die at the hands of their domestic partner. According to the UN, as of 2013 this accounts for the deaths of more than 30,000 women a year. This is horrific and unfathomable. Former US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey's mother Gwen was one of these women. And
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Memorial Drive is the reflective memoir she's written to grapple with the loss of her mother at the hands of her former step-father.

Trethewey was born to a beautiful, young black mother and a white Canadian father in the strictly segregated Deep South. Her early years with her parents, living amongst the extended maternal side of her family was happy and her memoir is filled with joy as she describes those early years. But her parents drifted apart after her father went back to school and they ultimately divorced. She and her mother moved to Atlanta where her mother got a job as a social worker and eventually met Big Joe, the man who will be Tasha's stepfather and who will murder her mother. Trethewey recounts the physical abuse her mother endures and the emotional abuse she herself faces whenever Big Joe is around. She also tells, fairly dispassionately, of the ways in which the system fails her mother over and over again. A teacher doesn't report the abuse Trethewey tells her about. A person at the women's shelter brushes it off as normal when Natasha calls to say that her mother got into her car with Big Joe and something is wrong. The policeman assigned to watch her mother's apartment all night the night she was murdered left his post.

Trethewey's recounting of life with her mother and stepfather is patchy and she ruminates on the nature of memory. She talks of intentionally forgetting those years and the constant fluctuating levels of terror but if her head doesn't remember, she still carries the trauma and misplaced guilt over her mother's death deep in her bones. Her telling is dreamy, philosophical, and poetic but it is strangely emotionally removed, flatter than it should be, almost as if despite wanting to open up in this memoir, she is still protecting herself from the full brunt of emotion. And while she discusses the fact of her erasing what she could of those years, the lack of her half brother's presence (and also to some extent that of her biological father) is a strange omission. She was 19 when her mother was murdered by Big Joe and she is reckoning with her memories 30 years after the fact but it all felt unsatisfyingly incomplete. Almost at the end of the memoir, there is a transcript of several phone calls between her mother and Big Joe after he's gotten out of prison for assaulting Gwen in which he threatens her and she tries to reason with him. The transcripts are quite long given the overall length of the book and while they are horrific, they don't really add anything that Trethewey hasn't already shown the reader about this murderous, delusional man. It feels somehow wrong to criticize this book in any way given the terrible thing that Trethewey is sharing but in the end, I just didn't connect with the way it was written and I wanted to know more than I was given (and that I certainly wasn't owed). Others have raved about this though so perhaps take my opinion with a grain of salt.
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LibraryThing member carolfoisset
The grief, the pain, all described in such beautiful prose. It is a heartbreaking read, but so worth it.
LibraryThing member waldhaus1
Trethewey opens a window onto her soul and her mother’s soul. Written with the insights and clarity of a poet it is not a long book but a very full book. There are unanswered questions, questions about her father and about her book by I understand this as really being about loss coping with loss
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and reaching for understanding.
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LibraryThing member rmarcin
Heartbreaking memoir of a daughter recounting life with her mother, father, and stepfather - the man who would kill her mother.
The writing is raw and the sadness is palpable.
Joel, Natasha’s stepfather, was abusive, and although Gwen, Natasha’s mother, reported the abuse to the police, they
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neglected their duty the day she was killed. Natasha writes this memoir 30 years after the death of her mother, and her emotions and guilt over her mother’s death are laid bare.
#MemorialDrive #NatashaTrethewey
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LibraryThing member viviennestrauss
I listened to the audio version, read by the author - excellent but truly heartbreaking story of her mother - a victim of domestic abuse with the worst possible outcome. I had previously read a poetry book by the author and had added this to my reading list.


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