An Abbreviated Life is one of those rare books about which I'm not really going to be able to say much. This isn't due to any lack on the part of this memoir, but more that its contents hit so close to home that it feels so overwhelming and personal that it's difficult to write about.
Although her name seemed familiar, I wasn't really sure that I'd previously read anything by Leve, and when I told a friend I was reading this book and she instantly knew who I was talking about, I finally googled her. In the process I discovered a review at The Guardian, wherein the writer felt emotionally distressed about the way she perceived Leve's writing of the memoir and her separation from her mother as a betrayal, and she felt badly for Leve's mother. She even tracked her down to her apartment to interview her about the book.
It was when I felt hostility towards that reviewer that I understood three things:
1. I likely can't write coherently about this memoir, as my own experiences and loss of my own autonomy within those experiences just places me beyond the realm of anything close to unbiased thinking.
2. This memoir was more helpful to me than any self help books I've read on the subject, simply because I both freaked out about the similarities to my own reality and felt gratitude and relief to know that it's not just me who has gone through these experiences.
3. That reviewer clearly had no idea what it could be like to grow up with a controlling, gaslighting, emotionally manipulative narcissistic mother... and, unfortunately, apparently having read Leve's memoir wasn't enough for her to understand the horrors of that environment.
Which also makes me think that there may be any number of readers out there who simply cannot imagine having a mother so different from their own experiences that they may put this book down, thinking that Leve is either being too sensitive or overly dramatic or even cruel towards her mother. Most everyone has some level of strife or drama in their relationship with their mother, but if they go into this memoir believing that they they might empathize with Leve's experiences, they may well be shocked or questioning Leve's veracity when they discover that this situation is beyond anything they've experienced in their personal dynamics.
I imagine most readers won't be able to directly empathize with Leve's experiences, but it's certainly a memoir that may make you grateful for the environment you did grow up in, similar to reading The Glass Castle. If you have had a similar life, however, this memoir can be all that much more illuminating and gratifying, with the tendency to make you feel just slightly less crazy.
My one regret over the outcome of An Abbreviated Life was that Leve had managed to gather the strength to walk away before she was 45 years old.