cover image We Are All Shipwrecks

We Are All Shipwrecks

Kelly Grey Carlisle. Sourcebooks, $24.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4926-4520-7

Carlisle, who teaches writing at Trinity University in San Antonio, Tex., describes her unorthodox upbringing in L.A. in this rich and complex memoir of a search for family. Her mother was murdered when she was three weeks old and she then lived with her grandfather and his second wife on a large boat in the L.A. harbor. “Where you come from is who you are,” her grandfather—a loving though volatile English pornography store owner—said to her. He raised Carlisle for most of her childhood following her mother’s murder, and he regularly withheld information from her about her parents and relatives. Her relationship with him and his much younger second wife, whom Carlisle referred to as her parents, was the defining one for her into adulthood, and it left Carlisle with many unanswered questions about her mother’s unsolved death and her own past. As a kid, she enjoyed living on her grandfather’s enormous boat, and the book describes their menagerie of animals as well as the kind, crusty neighbors she befriended. After college Carlisle began a search into her family’s history that lasted into her 30s and connected her to the LAPD’s cold-case homicide unit. Carlisle captivates the reader in this tender, warts-and-all narrative of her attempt to unravel her mother’s murder and of the man who helped to create an adventurous, if confusing, childhood for her. (Sept.)