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Monday, November 10, 2008

Reviews for "Off Kilter" by Linda Wisniewski are On Target

Title: Off Kilter: A Woman's Journey to Peace with Scoliosis, Her Mother, & Her Polish Heritage
Author: Linda C. Wisniewski
Genre: Memoir
ISBN: 978-1-59719-012-1
Format: Paperback, 164 pages
Publisher: Pearlsong Press

Reviewed by: Duffie Bart for StoryCircle Book Reviews

Wisniewski begins her memoir, "My mother was unconscious at the moment I was born and I longed all my life to make her see me." She describes her mother as a woman bullied by her husband, overwhelmed by life, who chose to hide, to ignore her daughter (or, still worse, put her down), and to escape into silence and passivity. Having had an emotionally cold mother myself, I have boundless admiration for this author's ability and willingness to confront a painful relationship. With her exceptional sensibilities, she excavates her memories with courage and tenacity. Her words are sometimes painful to read. At the same time, I feel a kind of healing power emanating from her honest recollections, a healing power perhaps for both writer and reader.

The mother-daughter relationship, seminal though it was, is by no means the singular focus of this memoir. Wisniewski honors all the members of the family into which she was born, in spite of its often dysfunctional dynamics. She honors the past, her Polish heritage. She writes about her Catholic education, the insensitivity of the nuns her failed marriages, and so much more. She writes of her life spent pleasing "teachers, employers, parents, boyfriends, husbands, twisting myself into someone I can’t be. I hurt when I do this, because it’s not natural." She relates her journey moving away from this futile way of being. The path she chose was to become herself, accept her emotional and physical handicaps, stretch herself, and take bigger and bigger risks despite her shyness.

Ultimately, the author comes to a place of inner peace: "The good memories return, like a tide that has been out for decades. Freed from some long-forgotten dam, they return to me, washing me in their healing waters. More and more often, I remember a golden day. I hear my people laughing. I am supported and surrounded by love."

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Reviewed by: Susan Tiberghien

Off Kilter opens a window into a woman's life as she comes to peace with her Polish ancestry, her mother’s depressive behavior, and her own scoliosis, a side-to-side curvature of the spine, discovered when she was thirteen. Linda Wisniewski weaves the threads beautifully together, sometimes on a slant, as she leads the reader into the compelling story of a survivor. After a few pages, the reader is captured by the author’s voice--both heartfelt and perceptive, that of a friend--and by the narrative itself.

Wisniewski's memoir is a tapestry, each thread connecting back to memories of her Polish Catholic childhood in a postwar mill town in upstate New York--the two-story clapboard houses, the polka weddings, the house full of talking relatives, the best kielbasa from the Polish butcher--struggling to find herself in the midst of her father's torments, her mother's tears, and the discipline of the Sisters at school, their voices cold as ice.

As the author writes her way through the remembered moments of her life, she finds herself no longer at loose ends with her childhood, but instead fitting the ends into the pattern of her life. Even her mother finds her place. When Linda sews, each sound, each touch, becomes a thread to her mother. "The feel of the tissue paper pattern, the placement of the pins attaching it to the fabric just the way I watched her do it. The chop, chop of the scissors taking me back to the kitchen table that was her cutting board."

The broken yardstick from her mother's sewing becomes the talisman of her life. "The yardstick resembles my life; it has broken parts. Nothing has been a straight line from here to there." Her back has been twisted by scoliosis. Her body and life have been off kilter. But the yardstick, mended and carefully glued back together, is now hers. It measures her struggle to stretch not only her spine but also her Self.

Bravo for this well-written, well-conceived memoir. The many different scenes of Wisniewski's life are beautifully described--specific details that the reader sees, touches, and feels. And always with honesty and integrity.

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To find out more about Off Kilter and Linda Wisniewski, please visit: http://www.lindawis.com

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