Bereft: A Sister's Story

Jane Bernstein, Author
Jane Bernstein, Author North Point Press $24 (240p) ISBN 978-0-86547-586-1
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-86547-613-4
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In 1966, Bernstein (Departures; Loving Rachel) was 17, planning for college and plotting escape from her New Jersey suburb, when her only sister, Laura, a student at Arizona State University, was stabbed to death in an apparently random act of violence. Although shocked and saddened, Bernstein and her parents appeared to cope remarkably well with the tragedy; after a proper period of mourning, Laura, seldom mentioned, seemed all but forgotten. Yet as time passed, memories of Laura and her horrific death began to intrude upon Bernstein's life at unexpected times and in unexpected ways. Resolving in 1989 to confront her sister's ghost, she traveled to Arizona to interview those who had investigated the murder, and she discovered that she didn't know how she felt--or how she was supposed to feel--about it. Bernstein struggled unsuccessfully with her narrative for five years, stymied by her inability to put the facts together in any kind of coherent order. Finally she realized that she would be incapable of writing Laura's story until she faced its effect on her own life, on her relationship with her husband and children. The result of that breakthrough, this memoir is an eloquent and unflinchingly candid investigation, not so much of a crime but rather of the subtleties and complexities of human relationships--and of the ways that a parent's discomfort with emotional outpourings can lead a child to suppress feelings that need an outlet. Although sometimes frustratingly circuitous, this is nevertheless a moving and insightful meditation on the often elusive intricacies of family relationships. (Apr.)
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