THE MEMORY BOOK OF STARR FAITHFULL by Gloria Vanderbilt
by Barbara Irvin
Have you ever wished you could travel back in time to an era you were not born in? I know I have. One decade that has always fascinated me is the Roaring Twenties, which is one of the reasons I chose to write about The Memory Book of Starr Faithfull, because this time period is when much of the story takes place. This historical novel, which is written by Gloria Vanderbilt, is unique in several ways:
- It is based on a real person.
- Each chapter begins with a new year. (The book starts in early 1917, when Starr is eleven years old, and ends in 1931, when she is twenty-five.)
- This novel is written in the form of a diary.
Vanderbilt brilliantly combines fact with fiction, weaving real events (the influenza epidemic of 1918, the end of World War I, and the Stock Market Crash of 1929) into a story she created in her mind while using newspaper and magazine clippings as background material. This narrative is told in Starr’s voice. Through her observations, the reader learns about her life, family, and the world in which she lives.
Although this is the story of a young girl, this is no lighthearted tale. Starr becomes the favorite of a wealthy married relative living in Boston, and, through much of her teenage years, is physically abused by him. He convinces her there is no harm in what he does to her, and she believes him. With each assault to her body and pride, there is also an addiction to ether. He knows that she would never allow him to touch her without her being under the influence of the chemical.
For years, Starr is able to keep what is happening to her a secret from her family. She even begins to believe that she is in love with him. However, during one extremely brutal attack, she can no longer take the physical and emotional pain, and fights him, though unsuccessfully. Realizing her life is spinning out of control, she tells her mother and stepfather what has been going on. They do not believe her, and she is put into a mental hospital for a while. Starr suffers a nervous breakdown, and her life is never the same again. At times she is happy and stable, but for most of her short life, she is depressed and emotionally distraught. After she is released from the institution and is back with her family, she begins a life of promiscuity. By the end of the book, she is so alone and miserable that she leaves her house without telling anyone and drowns herself in a river.
This book shows us that even back then, people went through horrible experiences. What happened to the character of Starr Faithfull, and what might have occurred in the real person’s life, could happen to anyone.
As in life, in fiction, not all stories have a happy ending. And The Memory Book of Starr Faithfull
is proof of this. Reading about someone with a sordid past is like going through a long, dark tunnel. One never knows what one will find at the end. But no matter what awaits at the end, there will always be some kind of surprise.