Book Review: For a Dancer: The Memoir by Emma J. Stephens
Emma recounts her childhood growing up with an outgoing older sister, a permissive father, and an addict stepfather in rural America. She then relates attending college as a single mother, her failed marriage, and studying abroad in Paris.
Imagine the most whiny, entitled, immature person you know. Now imagine that person perceives herself as simultaneously awesome, intelligent, and put-upon. Now imagine that person wrote a memoir and couldn’t even maintain the same tense throughout. That’s Stephens’ memoir. To a T.
Yes, a few things in Emma’s childhood weren’t perfect, but most people don’t have life handed to them on a silver platter. Her sister overshadowed her a bit. Her stepfather was an addict who had to go to rehab. Interestingly, though, Emma and her sister were unaware of his addiction until her mother and stepfather sat them down to explain why he was going into rehab. It seemed to me that they actually handled the situation quite well. When Emma’s stepfather returns from rehab, he and her sister clash a bit in the typical teenage angst style, but since the girls also have a father, Emma’s sister moves in with him and their stepmother. It is at this point that Emma starts making the series of dumb decisions that really mess up her life for….well for forever.
Emma ditches her mother and stepfather who had just made over her room for her and goes to live with her absentee father and stepmother who really aren’t behaving like parents at all. Emma proceeds to whine about this situation, when she did it to herself. She whines about everything about living there, when all she had to do was go back to the healthy household with her mom and stepfather. Why didn’t she? Dare I to suggest that she actually liked the freedom, no responsibilities, slacking off in school, getting drunk, having sex, etc…? Why, yes I do. She then proceeds to run away from home multiple times, scaring the crap out of her mother, who appears to be the only one who goes looking for her. It’s the typical what do we do with this horrible out of control teenager story only told from the teenager’s perspective. Aka, it’s terrible. It’s horrible to read about. There is no remorse, no chagrin. Everyone else is always at fault but Emma.
Perhaps teenage angst can be forgivable, but what occurs later was simply horrifying to read about, partially because at first it seems that Emma is straightening her life out. She gets pregnant, keeps the baby, and still completes her pre-med courses and graduates with her BS. This is admirable. I’m sure it was difficult, and she seems to be focused on providing a good life for her son. That all quickly ceases though when she gives up on becoming a doctor, gets married, moves to LA, gets a boob job, and then starts shopping herself and her son around for movie roles. You claim you want to give your son a better life, so you throw him to the wolves in Hollywood? Really?
Naturally, the marriage doesn’t work out, and we then see a series of men coming into and out of her son, Gabriel’s, life. He is routinely left with friends or family so Emma can gallyvant around with these various men, oh, not to mention go do a semester abroad in France without her son when he’s only 11 years old. All she can seem to think about or focus on is money. Not creating satisfying relationships. Not broadening her horizons. Not anything but money. Think I’m exaggerating? She ends up ditching her son for weekends so she can fly across the country to be a high-class hooker. Meanwhile, her mother has settled in the mountains and become an addiction specialist. If you’ve ever needed proof goodness isn’t genetic, there it is. In fact, I’d love to read her mother’s memoir. I bet she has a lot more valuable things to say.
Perhaps all of that could be bearable if she simply wrote well, but she doesn’t. She talks in circles and constantly changes tenses to the point where following the story is incredibly difficult.
Overall, this is a badly written memoir by a person who is a bad daughter and irresponsible mother who has seemingly learned nothing from her mistakes. I cannot in good faith recommend it to anyone.
1 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy via LibraryThing’s EarlyReviewers