Book takes a different look at estrangement
By Judith Farrell
Published August 19, 2007
"Strangers in Blood: Distanced Lives," by Janice Law, Eakin Press, 173 pages, $26.95.
Law risks high stakes with "Strangers." The author exposes her own estrangement and with it, some pretty tough-to-take family secrets. The estrangement is between the author and her brother - 13 years her elder; however, before reaching that story, readers become privy to abuse, deception, alcoholism and many other sundry family dysfunctions.
It's a startling narrative, because readers know Janice Law as the Sunday travel columnist for The Galveston County Daily News. With this memoir, we know her as author, sister, reporter, attorney and judge. Her list of credentials is impressive.
Estrangement is a fascinating topic. Readers will reflect on their own estrangements and will analyze personal details relative to this story. Law is estranged from her brother, but she is also estranged from mother and father. She isn't concerned with her relationship as a daughter presumably, because her parents are deceased and beyond any attempt to re-establish ties.
Law's brother, George, is a quirky character; from Law's recollections, we find out that he was a strong brute as a child - often beating Law just for being the unwanted child coming so late in her mother's life. Law writes, "He would never be able again to beat me in the face with his fists, fracture my nose and blacken my eye."
George's family - wife, daughters, son - are equally as quirky. Details of the estrangement extend to them. They are the reason Law's attempt to re-establish with George is a challenge. Law doesn't want sibling ties with her brother at this late date. She would like some questions answered; she would like George to reciprocate her correspondence and visits, but establishing a bond seems out of the question. A load of hurt remains.
Law also reveals Aunt Eleanor, her mother's sister. She is the woman who made sure Law had an advantage. She provided the tuition for her niece to go to college; Law is the first and only in her family to earn a degree; the first and only to earn a post graduate degree. She suspects that she is more than a niece to Aunt Eleanor, but she can't prove it.
This personal narrative is only part of the story. Weaving through Law's narrative are vignettes about other notable people and their personal estrangements. Some vignettes are light and resigned; others are dark and rigid.
One is about the Rev. Lori Morton, an African-American assistant minister at New Mount Olive Baptist Church in Florida. Though she is a woman of God, she is only human and has her own estrangements to battle.
Another is about Neil Armstrong's emotional estrangement from his kids. Armstrong's shoes are hard to fill; he is an unassuming hero - more comfortable alone than at the dais.
The account provides food for thought. It's about time someone wrote about estrangements; the topic is long overdue.
Judith Farrell, a high school teacher, lives in League City.