Publisher: Raised Book Press
Publication date: Jan 21, 2020
When Cinthia Ritchie remembers her older sister, she envisions the thin jut of a clavicle bone, the concave stomach, the face pulled tight from lack of fat. Her sister, who lived a life void of food and excess, died of eating disorder complications while driving a taxicab in Florida. In this moving memoir, Ritchie traces the trajectory of her sister’s death back to their stepfather’s farm, where they roamed the fields by day and yearned for protection during the long, dark nights. Malnourished dives deep inside the things we dare not speak—secrets, obsessions, deviations—demonstrating in lyrical prose how the damage done in childhood colors the taste of things to come. It’s a journey through hunger and grief that ultimately chronicles the healing power of forgiveness, and love.
If there’s one book that you read this year, let it be this one.
The eloquence, honesty, and raw emotion of Ritchie’s writing is so overwhelming that this book will stay with me for a long time. She speaks poetically and unapologetically about her struggles with mental health and eating disorders.
Ritchie begins with a description of the idyllic life that she and her sisters led on their stepfather’s farm, running wild across the huge property. Except for the nights, when she writes (in whispers) about sexual abuse, which robbed her of the ability to sleep soundly for the rest of her life.
The bond between Ritchie and her elder sister, Deena, is described with such sensitivity and beauty that I felt my heart break when Deena started displaying strange behavior and refusing to eat. I was in despair when the family fail to act to prevent the disaster unfolding in front of their eyes. Deena grows dangerously close to death and voices in her head keep her up at night.
Initially, their mother is described as a character on the sidelines of their life, but later, her motives and aspirations are revealed. Cinthia speaks of how their mother seemed indifferent to the clear warning signs of dysfunction. In retrospect, it appears she was fighting demons of her own.
Cinthia’s troubled relationship with food appears to leave a mark on every other aspect of her life. The sense of taste seems to afford immense satisfaction to her. As a child, she eats earth, rocks, and plants. As an adult, she gives in to her animal urges and tastes people and objects to feel connected to them. Episodes of cutting are described on and off throughout the memoir.
By her own admission, Cinthia’s version of events is not entirely reliable, so we can only guess which parts are true and which are a product of her traumatized mind.
It is incredibly brave of Cinthia to bare all in her memoir, parts of which may be too graphic for some readers. She has opened herself to judgment by sharing deeply personal information, but she writes with such candor and feeling that I hope readers will view the book for the absolute gem it is.
(I received an ARC from Reedsy Discovery in exchange for an honest review. This review was first published here.)