cover image Loose of Earth: A Memoir

Loose of Earth: A Memoir

Kathleen Dorothy Blackburn. Univ. of Texas, $26.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-4773-2962-7

In this blazing debut, University of Chicago writing professor Blackburn chronicles 13 months encompassing her 13th year, when her father was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer and her devout mother insisted that faith would heal him. At the time, Blackburn’s father was a former Air Force pilot working for American Airlines, and her mother was a part-time veterinarian who homeschooled Blackburn and her siblings in their small Texas town. From May 1997 to June 1998, driven by their mother’s implacable will, Blackburn and her four younger siblings “researched ways to purge Dad’s body of anything that might hinder God’s work,” from prayer to healthy eating. Their mother’s fanaticism turned cruel when she began to withhold medicines, including codeine, from their father, arguing that the pills were “demonic” and that taking them “opened [his] body to possession.” Interspersed with the harrowing family narrative is a parallel thread about the likely cause of her father’s cancer: his repeated exposure to PFAs, toxic chemicals used by the military in firefighting operations, whose carcinogenic properties only came to light years after he died. Though Blackburn doesn’t always merge the memoir’s twin tracks gracefully, her sentence-level excellence and gift for subtle characterization help this take flight. It’s a formidable portrait of the thin line between faith and delusion. Agent: Jennifer Lyons, Jennifer Lyons Literary. (Apr.)