cover image When the World Didn’t End: A Memoir

When the World Didn’t End: A Memoir

Guinevere Turner. Crown, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-23759-5

American Psycho screenwriter Turner recalls an often-traumatic childhood in this affecting memoir, which covers her life from ages six to 18 in the 1970s and ’80s, when she and her family were members of a cult centered on the apocalyptic teachings of Mel Lyman. Lyman prophesied that on Jan. 5, 1975, the world would end, but members of “the Family”—many of whom lived together on a single property in Los Angeles—would be transported to Venus in an alien spaceship. When the aliens didn’t appear, Lyman explained that some of his followers were not spiritually ready, and Turner took that to heart, believing that her imperfections were what held the Family back (“I can’t remember not living with the shame of it, and the mystery”). Eventually, she moves to New York City with her mother to join up with a Family sect there, after which she slowly comes to understand the depth of the Family’s deception. Turner excels at making the cult’s far-fetched beliefs and practices legible to outsiders, illustrating her mindset through occasional contemporaneous diary entries: “All we did all day in school was read Melvin’s poems and memorize them. It is very hard to say them correctly.” Her journey away from the cult and toward a successful screenwriting career is stirring and inspiring. This will stay with readers long after they turn the last page. Agent: Bill Clegg, Clegg Agency. (May)