Kim Dana Kupperman
Jaded Ibis Press
228Pages; Print, $17.95
Kim Dana Kupperman delves into the mystique of her mother’s past and probes the depths of truth in her latest book The Last of Her: A Forensic Memoir. This stunning new memoir is a feat of impressive storytelling based upon expansive research, excavated memories, and an inquisitive imagination. It directly confronts the artifice of life and the artifice of writing and tries with honest vigor to communicate a narrative that conveys the truth once and for all of the life—and death—of Dolores Buxton.
Kupperman begins her memoir at the end—that is to say, in the aftermath of her mother’s suicide. She abstains from a linear, forward-moving plot structure and instead sets in motion a book composed in reverse chronological order, accounting for pivotal days in Dolores’s life. It begins with Dolores’s suicide and, running backward, describes the court order that removed Kupperman from her custody; her arrest for assaulting a pregnant woman; her own mother’s death of multiple sclerosis; and her birth to a mother whom she later abandons and a con man father to whom she acts as accomplice.
Kupperman gives each of these moments to us in the form of individual stories that interact to tell a larger story of a life lived in earnest and in defeat. Her purpose is to uncover answers about who her mother truly was—the actual woman behind the elaborate make-up, disguises, false names, and criminal activity—and what led her to make the choices she made. Kupperman’s intent to “lay bare [Dolores’s] life and examine it” drives this books content, and Dolores is handed to us naked and raw despite her own efforts to keep her personal life heavily guarded and hidden, especially from those closest to her.
While documented facts are the foundation of this narrative, Kupperman easily refrains from a book that reads like the reports she obtained during the research phase. This is not a book to sit amid the many newspaper articles; the court, law enforcement, and census records; and the coroner’s report from which she draws. This is a memoir at its core—a story (or stories) with a narrative arc, dialogue, conflict, and other elements of storytelling that enliven a recorded history so that it stands as not so much a document itself but a reimagining of that which already has been documented. It is as if she took a black and white photo and, with paints, a tiny brush, and a steady hand, added color to the captured memory, carefully filling in the details. With her artistic imagination, she overlays a story onto history—inserting fiction onto fact—in order to enlighten certain angles of Dolores’s life that had remained shrouded in the dark corners of mystery. Not every word spoken, action taken, motive premeditated is captured by the many reports and recollections upon which this memoir is based; storytelling is an inevitable departure for this book, as many details are unknown, and even that which is known from Dolores’s past is fragmented. “All that remains of my mother are the stories I tell about her,” Kupperman writes. “The instinct to cobble together a whole person of these pieces drives me to return, over and over again, to the narrative scraps with which I am familiar of Dolores’s life.”
This memoir is written less so for Kupperman’s readership to come to know the true Dolores and more so that Kupperman might gather, through the act of writing, who Dolores was (beyond motherhood) and the pain she accumulated throughout her life, which requires an inquisitive and empathetic stance. The lens of a daughter, with its biases and familial turmoil, is more opaque than is the lens of a writer, yet Kupperman successfully transitions from daughter to writer and distances herself appropriately so that she can take in an entire life rather than a life lived only in a tumultuous mother-daughter relationship.
Kupperman places herself within a lineage of...