by Jane Bernstein
North Point Press, 2000
Review by Nancy Leake on Oct 16th 2001
"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
Nancy Leake writes
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