Reviewed by Lillet Williams
TAGS: Elizabeth Nunez, Akashic Books, Trinidad and Tobago, childhood memories, death of a parent, mother-daughter relationship, dementia
Not For Everyday Use: A Memoir by award-winning novelist Elizabeth Nunez is a recollection of her experiences in--and thoughts and feelings of--dealing with the death and remembering the life of her mother, Una. Nunez, a professor at Hunter College in New York, talks about growing up in the British colonized island of Trinidad during the 1940s-50s, as well as going to college and graduate school in the United States. The reader is drawn into a journey of memory that demonstrates how entwined Nunez’s mother was in her life, and how one never really leaves home.
From the very first page, Nunez details every event and nuance that occurred since she received the phone call that notified her of her mother’s hospitalization, and the subsequent urgency for her to return to Trinidad. As Nunez describes her emotional and physical journey back home, she describes her mother’s admonition that any displays of emotion are simply “not for everyday use.” The book continues through several days of recounting various situations as she goes about planning the funeral with her siblings, and dealing with her father and his increasing dementia and lucidity. As the only non-scientific or mathematical professional among her siblings, the responsibility of writing their mother’s eulogy was placed on Nunez. She wanted to pay honor to her mother’s life while remaining true to her own unresolved feelings and misunderstandings of who her mother was as a woman, not just the mother and wife Nunez grew up thinking she knew.
The book was difficult to read because there were so many tangential stories taking place. Nunez would describe a situation from her childhood, which would then remind her of something else in her life, so she deviated to fully explain that other thought and may or may not get back to whatever she was initially describing until the next chapter. The urge to know more about the Nunez family, particularly Una Nunez, was the only thing that held this reviewer’s interest. However, Nunez doesn’t really delve into memories of her mother, and her feelings toward her, until halfway through the book. Indeed, the book doesn’t seem to stay on course until the second half. The stories of Nunez’s classmates, neighbors, and Trinidadian politics could have been left out in order for readers to understand who Una Nunez was, and how that helped the author understand who she was as her mother’s daughter. In addition, sometimes the author’s wordiness kept the story from progressing swiftly.
This reviewer was unfamiliar with Elizabeth Nunez before reading this book, but she is definitely a talented writer. Anyone with a parent, living or dead, will be able to relate to Not For Everyday Use because it will help them remember that before, after, and even while raising children, parents are human beings themselves. The book serves as a cathartic journal for Nunez to write her deepest feelings of uncertainty, and even resentment, that she dared not ever speak aloud to her mother, or anyone else. While her family knew that Nunez would honor and respect their mother’s love of the Catholic Church and of discretion when writing her eulogy, she was still able to demonstrate in Not For Everyday Use that while she and her siblings were taught to be stern and stoic, they all craved emotional connectivity, validation, and attention as if they were still young children. Despite the long-winded writing style, Not For Everyday Use will leave readers wanting more.
Lillet Williams, MBA has worked in the mental health field as an administrator for over 15 years. She currently lives in Maryland with her almost 12 year-old son, is a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and is working on another masters in HR Management. She enjoys traveling, reading, and science fiction movies.