Nicole Melanson ~
I met author Alethea Black online through our mutual battle with biotoxin illness. We’ve had some similar life experiences to date so You’ve Been So Lucky Already, Black’s “empowering and disarmingly funny memoir about grief and illness”, piqued my interest.
Spend any amount of time on health-related forums and you’ll find a wide range of people struggling not only to understand but to articulate what’s wrong with them. One of the most frustrating aspects of neurological and cognitive disability in particular is the impact on processing and expressive skills. Damage the bones in your foot and you can point to the problem and explain the pain; damage your brain and communicating your impairment can be a challenge in and of itself.
Consequently, it’s a gift when someone recovers sufficiently enough that they can share their experience with others. (It’s especially fortuitous when that person is already a talented writer.) Chronic illness can be incredibly isolating and leave sufferers despondent; “survivor stories” offer both understanding and hope.
However, the biggest take-away from You’ve Been So Lucky Already is not how Black fought her way to diagnosis and treatment because chronic illness is, by definition, about management rather than recovery. The success here is that despite losing her beloved father, a partner, and all her possessions—truly hitting “rock bottom”—Black found peace within herself. In her own words: “My suffering has become something else—a kind of strength.”
With regards to literary merit, You’ve Been So Lucky Already is easy to read but eloquent. Black’s voice is confident and her turns of phrase spot-on. Furthermore, the book is surprisingly humorous given its subject matter. Black comes across as someone determined to see the bright side of even the worst situations.
In terms of narrative arc, there’s some fragmentation between chapters that keeps this work from feeling like a traditional memoir. In some ways, I think this is an issue of timing as the childhood / upbringing component of Black’s story feels quite separate from her subsequent struggles through adulthood.
The book also reads more as a collection of linked short stories than a series of chapters, in part because Black alternates between first and second person. This shift might bother someone wanting a clear beginning-to-end trajectory, but I personally didn’t find it that jarring. Derealization and depersonalization are symptoms that frequently crop up in illnesses likes ours, so experiencing individual chapters through the distance of a second person voice felt pretty authentic to me.
You’ve Been So Lucky Already is a succinct, interesting, and inspiring read for anyone wondering what to do when life gives you a bunch of puzzle pieces that don’t seem to fit together. For more info and purchasing details, see here.
For more information about the author, visit Alethea Black’s website.