Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 27 Mar 2019

Member Reviews

I love memoirs.  I am not sure if it is the reality tv junkie in me, a sick voyeuristic look into other people's lives.  Or maybe it is the "I'm not alone" feeling I sometimes get when I can relate to the author's struggles.

Carol Es shares her raw and heartbreaking journey growing up being subjected to emotional and phycological abuse.  Normally I like a timeline to run straight from beginning to end. But her ability to weave the story of her childhood in with the more present day really gives you a feeling of what she was going through.

While I felt some of the writing was sub par, I feel the stories she was able to tell were so cathartic for her, and therefore made it a good readable (and for some, relatable) book.
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I'm not a huge fan of the memoir that jumps around to different times. It's a little confusing to learn one thing about her relationship with her brother then it turns out to be 10 other things. I think she leaved key details out like, the car accident with her restored car. I couldn't figure out who she was in a relationship with at times, it's like she was seeing this guy and then she'll say I cut ties with this other guy out of nowhere. It's a very sad story, but it was too disjointed for my liking. I think it could use a better editor.
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The embroidered words ‘My Grace is sufficient for thee’ hang over my desk as I write this review. I’m not religious but I suppose that line resonates with me because it proclaims the transformative power of weakness which is really the axis upon which all great art revolves. From our pain, beauty flows. 
In this absorbing memoir (I started in the bright, morning light and finished in darkness), Carol Es rather courageously articulates a catalogue of trauma and abuse that, paradoxically, empowers her not simply to survive but to nurture, to create, to love. Despite her demons (or, perhaps, emboldened by them), she escapes the suffocating cult-grip of Scientology while also forging an acclaimed career as an artist and now writer in the process. Yes, the narrative of family dysfunction, addiction, depression, etc can seem like tired ground in trendy confessional memoirs but there is a lot of meat to chew on here. Her exposé of Scientology’s grim ruthlessness and control is a story in itself (and a brave one given their reputation for revenge) but, within that, are searingly painful episodes of abuse, betrayal and illness and, within that, equally compelling moments of love, poignancy and humour. Within these narratives, still further tangents. Like life itself, these contrasting episodes grind and scrape like tectonic plates but that is what gives the book authenticity. Life is chaos; moments of grace crash into numbing despair and Es often writes like a 3 am phone call or a handbrake turn. Instability and potential freefall haunt every corner.  Like Charles Bukowski’s ‘Ham on Rye’, this book had so many moments like half-remembered fragments of my own childhood. She talks of watching the fish in a hospital aquarium and thinking about death. I’m sure I’ve been there, too. I know the bedrooms, the lighting, the scents and sidewalks she described. Nothing here felt contrived. Many of her experiences felt like my own life and, in her pain, I felt oddly strengthened. Such is the power of fine art at its finest.
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"This story has so much depth for one to wonder on. It’s thought-provoking,… on so many levels, including a sense of how a lot of us can empathize with the author in our own dysfunctional upbringing. And how  we deal with life events, its tragedies, it’s joys, and our own overall inner strength, and the belief in the foundations of our compassions, values and experience in this ever changing life, and have you wondering The question - “What would I have done?” 
Very powerful novel !
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A compelling raw honest look at Carol Es’s life .From a young age she suffers mental abuse a difficult family life . It’emotionally hard to read about her suffering from Joining Scientology to dealing with the life of a musician always revealing the dark side.I read a lot of memoirs and this is a real open life story hiding nothing .
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Now and again i enjoy reading something different from the usual genres that i generally read.  I am glad that i read it as it was interesting in parts, but that is as far as it goes.  I can see why this memoir would appeal to some and not to others.  

My thanks to Netgalley and the Publishers for my copy.  This is my honest review.
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In Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley Carol Es has written about her life, but in doing so she's also written about life as that thing we all share, our essence blasted across the stars. It's all here, and after reading it, you may just come away changed.

Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley is life, brothers and sisters. Life and love and survival, and I will testify here and now that I could not stop turning the pages. I could not put it down. I didn't want to put it down. Some people have an inherent knowledge of things, you dig, a free and unobstructed view of what we call the big picture, and Carol Es is one of those people. Her book is as insightful, funny, horrifying, and beautiful, like life itself.

The book is a guided tour through a Tilt-A-Whirl life that takes so many turns that you may find yourself looking up from the pages and wondering how the hell one person managed to fit them all into 40-odd years. And many of them are odd years indeed, from her rootless, abusive childhood through serious and successful careers in music and art, much of which was achieved while being involved in a notoriously destructive mind-control cult. See what I mean?

We all want to live. We want to do something. We don't want our lives to pass by without notice or event. But "living" usually means enduring our share of pain or humiliation or suffering, and for some mysterious, inbred genetic reason, we here in the West don't want to talk about or hear about or read about anything like that. Not that we need to dwell on our suffering, or celebrate it like some kind of county fair blue ribbon winning mincemeat pie. But we would all be better off if we acknowledged it, rather than avoided it or turned a blind eye to it or pretended it didn't exist. If we embrace our pain and see at it for what it is, we can bounce off of it in a hundred different directions. We can rise above it, we can grapple with it, we can learn from it, we can burn it to the ground and piss on the ashes. We can do anything.

Carol Es brings the dark side to Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley, yes. There is pain. There is suffering. There's no getting around it. She presents it straight up. No padding, no parachute, no dancing around the hard stuff. But there is much more to her story than darkness. Carol is looking the big bad wolf straight in the eye, and it is liberating. When you dare to deal with truth, you are free. Free to find the humor that is just underneath everything and the joy that comes with taking the bumpy ride. 

Because if we're lucky, life isn't all one thing. It isn't just a dull slog through it all or stepping onto a stage to accept your Oscar or the ripe breath of your boss on your neck. Life is a distillation of everything, all of it. And the final product is worth surviving and celebrating.
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I found this book by artist, musician and writer Carol Es to be rather self-serving.  She describes her entire family as dysfunctional and most of them as mentally unstable.  
I'm sorry to say that I was not impressed by her writing.  Perhaps if she had been less wordy, it might have made her memoir more readable.
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Memoirs/biographies are one of my favorite genres to read. However, this book just didn't do it for me. I was only able to get past the second chapter before I gave up.
I felt like the writing style was too "ADD" for me. The author was just too "all over the place" for my tastes. Overall, this book didn't keep my interest.
Three stars for the interesting title and cover.
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