I finally finished Kelly Sundberg’s memoir, Goodbye Sweet Girl: A Story of Domestic Abuse and Survival, this morning. I’d been wanting to delve in for a while now, and had started her book at least a couple of months ago, I think, but I read the bulk of it in the last week and a half.
Kelly and I are Facebook friends, but we have not met in person. I am wary of that, usually—being Facebook friends with someone you don’t know—(even though I asked her, which I would normally not do). I was moved by some shorter creative nonfiction essays of hers I read online, and we share many writer friends in common. Now, we are slated to be on the same panel at a writing conference (I invited her). That—as a little background.
About her book: I realized that it’s been a while since I’ve read a full-length memoir. I recently read a couple of books of essays and a novel, and in general have been reading essay collections or individual essays online. I enjoyed the longer, sustained narrative and the chance to get to know the narrator in that context and structure. Sundberg’s voice is conversational, intimate, open—I felt as though a friend—maybe not my best friend, but a good friend—was telling me the most important story of her life. As a reader, it was a privilege to be in that position—to be trusted in that way.
Certainly, parts of Goodbye, Sweet Girl were difficult to read: the scenes in which there is violence and the narrator despairs, stuck between a rock and a hard place. Sundberg shows what it is like to be in the situation of making so little money as an adjunct professor and the reality of the challenge / impossibility of raising a child without a second income. So many women are unable to leave abusive situations, because of these economic circumstances. And these circumstances are far, far too common.
She describes and takes the reader through her situation—how she came to be with her ex-husband, how some of the times were good, and what happened when his rages turned violent and the violence escalated. Sundberg also describes growing up in a small town in Idaho, a place I’ve never been, and I appreciated the details of the setting. The book also takes place in West Virginia—another area of the country I don’t know. Reading Sundberg’s book allowed me the opportunity to experience those places vicariously, and to learn about them.
I do recommend this book—with the caveat that I imagine it could be potentially triggering depending on the reader’s personal experiences. However, what came through for me was Sundberg’s determination, spirit of survival, ability to go forward and to create a new life for herself and her son. And that made it a positive book—learning how someone else who found herself in a bad situation made it through.