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Book Review This I Can Tell You by Brandi Spering

Updated: Jun 25, 2021

This I Can Tell You by Brandi Spering is an incredibly intimate and compelling memoir told in the form of a poetic narrative that explores family, tragedy, and trauma. It starts off by anchoring us, even isolating us, in very specific memories of the authors life to draw us into the narrative slowly with these images: “There are some scenes I have memorized: Grandpa by the grill in a straw hat and a cigarette in his mouth; Grandma waving the camera away; Mom’s mullet; Dad’s short shorts.” Slowly, methodically, and at times chillingly, the story expands to explore more memories and relationships between the author, members of her family, and memory itself. This expansion and contraction of scope becomes a cycle within the text; memories, whole or fragmented, move the narrative forward. This movement is even reflected in the way the text appears on the page.

As the narrative expands in scope and expanse to explore silence and nature of memory, we are guided along with it.

As the narrative expands in expanse to explore silence and nature of memory, we are guided along with it. Within each poetic narrative scene, the reader becomes centered and yet almost entwined within isolated events and details of the author’s life which are often questioned themselves. There is a calm urgency to the language Spering uses—a gentle, but sturdy, urging forwards. What struck me most about this is with that very simple language, Spering evokes so much from the simplest words and images, all while alluding to so much more that has not been said. There is this sense that there are two stories at work here, two stories being told—the one that is written and the one that remains unwritten. We are left trying and wanting to understand both.

We are brought through this book, phantom-like, between fragments of memories we first see alluded to as an old family movie that embodies the nature of memory--in particular, traumatic memory. That nature being how memory works in us, for us, and often against us when we experience trauma. There is a paradox inherent in traumatic memory—often you can recall crystal clear details about an event while the actual event can be obscured in your mind. Spering is a remarkable writer, expertly navigating through this, by demonstrating incredible attention to detail when she needs to and leaning into the more vague aspects of memory when it is necessary. She creates space for the complicated paradox of trauma within the very text—sometimes a few fragments of a sentence stand alone on the page, disembodied, so much like the isolation trauma brings.

All of this comes to life on the page, due to the layout and formatting of this book which embodies the words she writes. Many times while reading this book I found myself lingering on the page awhile longer than I needed to. This poetic narrative is meditative and all consuming—filled with silence and static that is punctuated by a resonance.

This book is a stunning example of a poetic narrative, one that embodies the disconnecting nature of trauma in oneself and ones’ family. I can’t say enough how much I love and appreciate this book for exploring these concepts of memory, time, trauma, home, and family with such incredible honesty. These are some of the most difficult themes to write about when you have been personally touched by them. It does not escape me, nor should it escape any reader, that to write this book must have taken a tremendous amount of strength and determination on Spering’s part.

This book is about what families say, and more importantly what they don’t say. It is about having conversations in trauma-imposed silence and about how tragedy contains us, how it separates us, and how, to some degree, it owns us, how we own it, and how we move forward from it.

If you read it, let us know what you think of it!

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