“My Mother’s House” by David Armand, Texas Review Press, $18.95, 192 pages, paperback
Author of the recent memoir, “My Mother’s House,” David Armand has worn many literary hats in his mere 36 years. He’s published three novels, a collection of poems and various short stories and essays around the country. But it is in the form of memoir that this author truly shines.
Like many of its most notable predecessors (think Harry Crews’s “A Childhood”), Armand’s memoir is an emotional and artistically rendered tour de force that reads like some of today’s greatest fiction, which is no surprise given the author’s aforementioned writing background. But this particular story, for better or for worse, is entirely true.
Abandoned by his schizophrenic mother as a child, the author recounts his rough road to adulthood, a road marked by rejection and abuse by an alcoholic stepfather. Armand still manages, however, to attempt to understand this man and his demons, painting him with a sympathetic, though honest, brush.
Armand recounts, for example, dark Louisiana mornings in the marsh — duck hunting or fishing with his oft-angry stepfather — all with a deep admiration for language and how those words can help him come to terms with his past. In one of these scenes, Armand writes, “On both sides of the road were cane and marsh grass, high enough so that you couldn’t see over them from the cab of the truck. It was still dark outside and the headlights bounced over the road, making the shells in front of us appear almost perfectly white against the black sky overhead.”
It is in scenes like this one, however somber, where the author’s keen poetic sensibilities are evident, as well as his ability to capture a place in a way that it becomes a metaphor for something much larger than the story on the page — in this case, how the author feels as a young boy being around his stepfather.
Throughout the memoir, Armand further recounts growing up in a small Louisiana town, a place that is strikingly similar to those currently being mined by other Southern “Rough South” writers, like Daniel Woodrell and Tom Franklin. Yet, while Armand’s vision of the South truly is “rough,” he never loses his sense of compassion; he tells his story with warmth, avoiding bitterness and anger. This is a task that, in the hands of a lesser writer, would be nearly impossible.
The reader then sees Armand reintroduced to his biological mother — when he’s an adult, married, working, and a father of two young children — after one of her several failed suicide attempts. What follows is his descent into the bowels of the mental health system, one through which Armand tries patiently and futilely to maneuver in order to help his once-estranged mother, yet to no avail.
While this story is not necessarily the happiest book you’ll read this year, if one reads closely, one can’t help but be inspired by the author’s sense of hope and resiliency, which shines like a beacon through each dark, yet lovely page.