Grief, Loss, Death & Dying

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BereftReview - Bereft
A Sister's Story
by Jane Bernstein
North Point Press, 2000
Review by Nancy Leake
Oct 16th 2001 (Volume 5, Issue 42)

"I was the one who had tried to put an ocean between my past and present. I was the one who had left on the distant shore my old name and all my history and now was stuck in this hazy place....unaware that I was searching for my heart, my feelings, myself." Bernstein delves into her sister Laura's murder and how it changed everything, living, loving, and existing. Laura was stabbed to death while chaining her bicycle at the back of Casa Loma Hotel in Tempe, Arizona, in 1966. Four stabs to the body, two to the head. Jane, then known as Martha (she shed the name to leave herself behind), was 17 years old at the time. Her and her parents began the victims' dance of distancing themselves from Laura whom stopped existing, never died, never lived.

For 23 years Laura was not mentioned, and the relationship between Jane and her parents ceased. Her parents "fell into a deep sleep as soon as I came home." That can be said for Jane's feelings as well; she stopped remembering her sister. The girl Jane loved and lived in the same room with did not affect her anymore. Not until, Jane began to investigate the case. The next five years, Jane cares for the case more than her sister. This lack of feeling spread throughout her life. She suffered from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

This passionate memoir is the imprint of a murder on the victims left behind. A cleansing -- "It was as if I'd been locked in a kind of prison myself and was only now seeing all the ways the world had changed." Jane lives through the Vietnam War and the 60's, and suddenly awakes in the 90's as she begins to remember her sister and face her loss. Readers will share this heart-wrenching insight into the tale of a damaged woman.

Victims prepared to connect with another suffering soul should read Bereft. Bernstein's ordeal of denial, separation, continued victimization, questioning, and, finally, acceptance may find help with their healing. Although Bernstein never appears to become angry, she deals with the idea of the murderer David Mumbaugh's possible release. I was prepared to dislike this topic, but her systematic analysis of the murderer's previous life, then his behavior in prison, and his possible return to society is so logical that she wins me over.

Memoirs are often promotional vehicles or pity parties to the extent that the reader plods through repetitious trivia, not so with Bereft. Bernstein uses her experience of novel writing, and teaching English at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh to entertain the reader with a realistic, open style. Jane Bernstein has won a place at the top of my list to check for future releases.

© 2001, Nancy B. Leake, Reviewer All Rights Reserved

Nancy Leake writes about herself:

I am a retired family nurse practitioner turned freelance business writer. I write book reviews for various places and will be reinventing my review site WriteTimeWritePlace Reviews shortly. I have written a monthly column, "Market Watch," and have been published in many newsletters; webzines; and magazines, including Advance for the Nurse Practitioner; in a poetry anthology "In the Company of Women"; and have contributed to the "Management Guidelines for Adult Nurse Practitioners" by Lynne M. Hektor. I live in Fort Lauderdale with my husband and Bezel, my spoiled parrot.

This review first appeared online Sept 2, 2001


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