From the first paragraph of Gina Troisi’s memoir “The Angle of Flickering Light,” readers will sense that the author’s memories will follow a dark path. Like memory, the story twists and turns backwards and forwards, weaving together kaleidoscopic glimpses into the harsh, damaging places that ruled her childhood and early adulthood as she struggled to find where she belonged.

Her father is a serial philanderer and a cruel narcissist. He brags to his three daughters – the author is the youngest at five – about the women he’s slept with. This includes his secretary and a friend of their mother’s. “Your mother just didn’t want to admit it. She kept her head in the sand… Ask her.”

Her father divorces their mom and marries his secretary, Brenda. It’s a relentless horror for the young Troisi, who is, among the siblings, most confined to the woman’s presence as a pre-teen, her older sisters already moving off into their adolescent lives. Troisi’s stepmother alternately faults the girl for being too fat, then too thin, assaulting her in the crudest language imaginable. When Troisi goes away with her father and stepmother to a bed and breakfast, rather than let her stepdaughter sleep in a daybed in the room, her stepmother sets up a portable cot in a cramped closest where the girl will sleep… with the door closed to give the adults their privacy.

Troisi’s stepmother constantly finds ways to torment her. She drives the young Troisi repeatedly to a dead-end street in town to park and stare at a house where a man who once lived there strangled his wife to death. Many years later, on a return visit as an adult, Troisi stops by the house again. Her curiosity piqued, she calls the police department to get the specifics on the murder. The dispatcher checks, and tells her that there was never a murder at that address. “You must have the wrong town… The wrong state,” he tells her.

As a teenager, Troisi begins to hang out with the wrong people, to drink, smoke pot, drop acid and experiment with coke and meth. As a young adult, she has two long-term relationships with heroin addicts, one a man she grew up with, the other, John, a married man who works at the same restaurant she does. John starts coming by her apartment in the middle of the night, which leads to frequent sex. Troisi helps him try to detox, but he always relapses.

“I did not yet know that this would be the beginning of a path not easily abandoned – that I’d perch myself along the periphery of danger again and again …” She finally leaves him and drives to California to straighten out her life. But she returns and they take up together again.

Her mother, uncle, and her parental grandfather, Nanu, are the only anchors in her life. When her uncle dies of a heroin overdose, and Nanu dies of cancer, she is devastated. She returns to California, again trying to figure out who she is and to find a home where she belongs. She struggles to get and to stay clean.

Troisi’s stories have appeared in many literary journals. “The Angle of Flickering Light” is her first book. While it takes a bit of time to get used to her seesawing storytelling, the shifts in time prove to have a powerful effect in threading the story together. Troisi, who found a home for herself in Eliot, writes with honesty and skill. Her anguished, intense personal struggle becomes the paramount force that propels the story.

“I had become a person who stood outside myself and looked inward,” she writes. Later, she becomes “stricken by the thought of disappearing.” Troisi labors for years to find the strength to integrate her fractured self into a functioning whole. She ultimately achieves what she has long desired: She gets clean and sober; settles into a healthy, loving relationship and begins to devote herself to her passion – writing. “Angle of Flickering Light” is a story of fierce will and determination.

Frank O Smith is a Maine writer whose novel, “Dream Singer,” was named a finalist for the Bellwether Prize and a Notable Book of the Year in Literary Fiction in 2014 by “Shelf Unbound.” Smith can be reached via his website: frankosmithstories.com.


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