Killing Penelope – A daughter’s memoir of failed rescues
Kimball Converse Pier’s memoir, Killing Penelope, is a solid, well-written take on events that would be hard for many to process, let alone write about. Pier’s voice is strong and clear, and scenes of her own adolescence are expertly rendered, capturing the anxiety and the hopefulness of being a girl on the verge of womanhood. One moment in particular, when she gets her first brassiere, is specifically poignant. But, the memoir isn’t just about Pier’s adolescence, it is about her mother, Penelope’s, prolonged battles with illness and the difficult relationship between Penelope and Pier’s father, Gardiner, a doctor who became Penelope’s husband after he left his first wife and their three children. These people, and their casual cruelties to one another, are not devoid of love. In fact, we see them exhibit more often than not, but their methods are borderline abusive, and one has to wonder if the memoir was written as a way of exorcising those ghosts.
Pier, called Kacey by her family, due to her initials, wavers between saint-like in her care of her mother and typical in her adolescent preoccupation with fitting in and being liked. This need for approval stems from her feeling abandoned by her father to deal with her mother, whose physical illnesses are compounded by her mental health issues. We see Kacey as resourceful, using a man’s credit card to outfit an apartment for her sick mother, but at the heart of that resourcefulness is a desperation and sadness I found hard to shake long after reading the book.
It really isn’t until the end of the memoir, when Kacey sees her father near the end of his life, that we get a sense that she will be okay. The book winds through too much terrain, slaloming from one point to another, much as Kacey does in her years as a competitive skier. I wanted the slow down to focus on particular parts of her life, to see these moments unfold with less urgency and frenzy. Ultimately, that may be the goal of Killing Penelope.
Kimball Converse Pier’s book reminds us that our lives move at a pace we don’t set; the best we can do is try to navigate it with grace.
Lucky Bat Books
Kimball Converse Pier