When life falls apart
The Kids Are All Right is a memoir in four-part harmony. It gives the feel of being a guest at a family reunion and eavesdropping on siblings, Amanda, Liz, Dan, and Diana. The Welch children, actually adults now—Diana, the youngest, is 32—share and compare childhood memories of the deaths of their parents and the difficult years that followed as they struggled not to lose track of each other.
Four distinct voices combine to make this memoir particularly poignant: bold, brash Amanda; considerate, responsible Liz; troubled, rebellious Dan; and shy, insecure Diana. The result is a comprehensive family tale—sad, but ultimately, triumphant.
The kids are "all right" until the fateful night in 1983 when their father dies in a car crash, leaving considerable debt, along with questions about his death—was it an accident or murder? Their mother, famed soap star Ann Williams, deep in grief, is forced to sell their home and move the children to a house that strains to hold the family of five.
Then Williams is diagnosed with cancer, and the children take care of their progressively ailing mother—cooking, cleaning, and shopping squeezed in during after-school hours. The weakened family foundation finally crumbles when Williams dies and the children, ranging in age from seven to 19, are dispersed to live with separate families, an arrangement planned by Williams before her death.
Being separated from each other was another loss that nearly destroyed the already eroded family. Clearly the children suffered, made bad choices, and engaged in activities their parents would have despaired of. But they also displayed a remarkable strength and resiliency, and unconditional love for each other. Despite the physical distance between them, blood ties remained tightly knotted, stretched but not snapped by distance. Of this their parents would rejoice.
The Welches were fortunate to have a trust fund untouched by family debt that provided for their education and paid for their living arrangements. Money can't buy happiness, true, but it eased their trials by providing a layer of financial security. The real security, however, was in the foundation of family love and loyalty they learned from their parents. This is the bond that saw them through.
This memoir pieces together the fragments of their lives and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly with the honesty and strength of survivors. Growing up is never easy. Growing up orphaned, harder still. But all four make it to productive adulthood. The kids are indeed all right. This is a book that's tough to put down, and tougher still to forget.
Ruth Douillette is an essayist and photographer.