Mark Slouka may be familiar to readers through his award-winning fiction, including Lost Lake, The Visible World and Brewster, a powerful coming-of-age story set in 1968 in Brewster, New York. In his new memoir, Nobody’s Son, Slouka uses his considerable literary talents to tell the searing, haunting story of his life with his Czechoslovakian-immigrant parents.
Slouka’s approach is novelistic, and far from a straight chronological account. He writes, “I believe the record of our time, told as truly as possible, is never, or rarely, chronological,” he writes. “Life is always looping back, revising itself, elaborating itself.”
One of the “loops” Slouka returns to again and again is the story of his mother, a powerful presence in his life. The author works to uncover the hidden forces that shaped her past in Czechoslovakia and, to a large extent, shadowed her future in America: her tortured marriage, a long, secret love affair, struggles with mental health and her complex relationship with her son.
“You can’t reclaim someone’s past, no matter how fearless your imagination—not really,” Slouka writes. But as he imagines and pictures his mother, for instance, meeting F., the man she truly loved, she comes alive for the reader much the way a character in fiction does. The photographs included here remind us that she was very much a real, and often tortured woman.
“I’ve been writing her all my life,” Slouka says of his mother at one point, noting that his novel The Visible World was “a memoir embedded in a novel; an apt description of my life.”
In a similar way, Nobody’s Son sometimes feels like a novel embedded in a memoir. More than anything, beyond the labels, it is a moving and remarkable reading experience.