Felicia Sullivan grew up in 1980s Brooklyn, in the un-hip section where poverty, drugs and crime are facts of life. The author's mother, Rosina, was herself a criminal and a drug addict, as well as a breathtakingly selfish and uninterested parent. Even worse, she engaged in emotional and physical abuse, frequent near-overdoses, and chronic unreliability—the epitome of a bad role model. The list goes on and on, and the sadness builds with every page of Sullivan's memoir, The Sky Isn't Visible from Here, as it becomes clear that the author's efforts to be a good girl did not capture her mother's attention.
Sullivan evokes the tempo of her confusing existence by jumping from the present to the past and back again; no matter the time period, there is always an underlying sense of the author's shame and yearning. Sadly, readers who have endured this sort of parent, or know people who have, will not find many aspects of Sullivan's memoir surprising or unfamiliar. As in many addiction memoirs, there are depictions of the inevitable consequences of drug and alcohol abuse—alienated friends, hours lost to blackouts, loss of a job and the like. Sullivan's, that is: While the author is a high achiever (she graduated from Fordham, earned a master of fine arts degree from Columbia, and is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee) she's also done a lot of shoplifting and consumed a great deal of alcohol and cocaine in her attempts to forget her past. Fortunately, she made peace with her former life, admitted and faced her addiction, and is now creating a new sort of future.
There is another bright spot in Sullivan's story: She has maintained a relationship with Gus, the kindest and most loyal of her mother's ex-boyfriends. She writes touchingly of their time together, and thanks him in the book's acknowledgements. It's heartening to learn that, despite all she has endured—and put herself through—she has maintained a loving relationship with this man, whom she considers her father. Of course, his affection can't make up for the grief Sullivan clearly feels at not having had the kind of mother she longed for. But he may well have been just the life raft she needed.
Linda M. Castellitto writes from North Carolina.