More than ten years ago, I heard about a memoir published with a similar subject, domestic violence, and I wanted to find out how the author and her sisters dealt with it for so long and why their mother didn’t know about it. But I didn’t read it. I think the story took place in Texas.
Then I read part of this story, DRIVING WITH DEAD PEOPLE nine years ago or so in the memoir-writing workshop I was in with the author, so I knew it was published seven years ago. I wanted to read it but didn’t.
Why do I avoid difficult subjects? Come to think of it, I have a history of avoidance. For example, just before I left Japan in 1970 for the first time, I read a book about Japanese feminists’ struggles and was shocked to find that many Meiji women in kimono fought for women’s rights, and some went to jail. Many female authors died young in the Meiji era (1868-1916). I felt guilty because I knew I was a coward. Those women didn’t escape as I did, but they tackled the fundamental problem of our world. They’ve been on my mind.
Racism is another subject I didn’t know if I could ever challenge head on. At the bottom of my heart, I wanted to be the kind of person who does not walk away from problems that are in front of or around me.
So I read DRIVING WITH DEAD PEOPLE slowly. I enjoyed reading chapter by chapter for the culture was totally different from mine, growing up. For instance, no guns lay around our house or on the floor of any cars I rode on. I probably wouldn’t be able to truly understand the culture and all the issues.
But I trusted the narrator for her adventurous mind, braveness, and sense of humor. She was the story.
I also read the reviews on Amazon about this book, and I thought some bad reviews meant most of us, including old me, were not ready to read the book. But, I believe, those readers benefited from the reading. If we encountered a strange situation in our lives or heard about one, we could possibly see another dimension to human nature because of the reading, so it might help us act on it.
Suicide is like racism, which adults teach children their prejudice. I was drawn to Wendy’s death. She appeared only briefly in the story but left a strong impression on me. After her death, the narrator tried to eulogize and honor her by setting up something memorable in a display case along the school hallway. Her teacher happens to pass by the hallway. He tells her to remove the display she was working on.
The teacher seems very cold. What will the narrator do or say next? Japanese teachers would say something comforting to her no matter what was the situation of her friend’s death. The narrator is a brave person but she doesn’t protest a word and obediently follows the teacher’s instruction. She wonders what the teacher meant by “epidemic.” We surely need to avoid the epidemic of suicide.
But Suicide is a death of a human. I think we can still honor our friends, without honoring suicide.
This story contains complex issues: domestic violence, female struggles, racism, and suicide. I believe they are all connected. I won’t write about the connection here to make this review short.
As all the good books, this book doesn’t lecture. The issues are global. The author of DRIVING WITH DEAD PEOPLE shows how it was from her viewpoint at the time she wrote. I honor her work because hers is not an easy task.