Memoirs are too often judged only by the power of the story. Tom’s story is powerful and moving all right, but also as beautifully written as any literary fiction.
Aftershocks is Tom’s first book but she began her career as a print journalist, in New Zealand, and it shows – in a good way.
Arresting imagery, compelling characterisations and a driving narrative are contained within a swirling structure that beautifully captures the circular and fragmentary nature of memory. Remarkably, though, Aftershocks remains an ‘easy’ read. Tom’s prose is clear and purposeful; her story, as painful as it is, is told with clarity and strength. Her willingness to expose herself on the page is nothing short of courageous.
A survivor of the Christchurch earthquakes of 2011, Tom thoughtfully draws on the metaphor of aftershocks to also explore the trauma and ongoing consequences of growing up within a dysfunctional family. Tom’s love for her parents and siblings is obvious, but Tom’s mother is especially difficult and the fallout from the family’s toxic inter-relationships is devastating.
That Tom should then have to live through a natural disaster of top of everything else seems deeply unfair but then, this memoir clearly shows us that life is isn’t fair. Family is at the core of this moving memoir, but I also found the descriptions of the after-effects of the Christchurch earthquakes to be eye-opening. Liquified soil; geysers of sewage and water erupting through the floor; sinkholes swallowing cars and people; and, finally, the impossibility of things ever returning to ‘normal’.
For all the pain and difficulty that is described, though, Aftershocks is no misery memoir. Tom’s personal strength and optimism shines through. Highly recommend.