cover image Forager: Field Notes for Surviving a Family Cult: A Memoir

Forager: Field Notes for Surviving a Family Cult: A Memoir

Michelle Dowd. Algonquin, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-1-64375-185-6

In this surprisingly plucky debut, journalism professor and essayist Dowd details her childhood in an apocalyptic Christian cult founded by her grandfather. On a mountain in California’s Angeles National Forest, Dowd and her family survived off the land, read only the Bible, and performed in a traveling circus for the little money they needed to support themselves. For Dowd, however, God’s love was less an embrace and more “like rounds of chemotherapy.” When an autoimmune disorder shuffled her in and out of the hospital as a teenager, the outside world started to creep in, and cleaning jobs for clients on the outside further awakened her to the concept of home and the possibility that she might go to college. After going on a date to her first-ever movie with a former cult member, Dowd was excommunicated at age 17 and struck out on her own. Her choice to begin each chapter with field notes about the plant species that kept her alive during her childhood rises above gimmick, but her prose can be overwrought, and her too-general engagement with the cult’s inner workings is frustrating. Still, this is an undeniably powerful saga of personal survival. Agent: Lucinda Halpern, Lucinda Literary. (Mar.)