If Only You People Could Follow Directions is a spellbinding debut by Jessica Hendry Nelson. In linked autobiographical essays, Nelson has reimagined the memoir with her thoroughly original voice, fearless writing, and hypnotic storytelling. At its center, the book is the story of three people: Nelson’s mother Susan, her brother Eric, and Jessica herself. These three characters are deeply bound to one another, not just by the usual ties of blood and family, but also by a mother’s drive to keep her children safe in the midst of chaos. The book begins with Nelson’s childhood in the suburbs of Philadelphia and chronicles her father’s addiction and death, her brother’s battle with drugs and mental illness, her own efforts to find and maintain stability, and her mother’s exquisite power, grief, and self–destruction in the face of such a complicated family dynamic. Each chapter in the book contends with a different relationship—friends, lovers, and strangers are all play—but at its heart the book is about family, the ties that bind and enrich and betray us, and how one young woman sought to survive and rise above her surroundings.
If Only You People Could Follow Directions
List Price: $15.95
Jessica Hendry Nelson earned a BA in English from the University of New Hampshire and an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in The Threepenny Review, The Carolina Quarterly, Crab Orchard Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Drunken Boat, Alligator Juniper, Fringe, and PANK. A chapter from this book, The Whitest Winter Light, is a Notable essay in Best American Essays 2012. Currently, she is the senior nonfiction editor of The Fiddleback, a literary journal, and lives in Colchester, VT.
"The direction one should go is immediately to a book store and pick up a copy of If Only You People Could Follow Directions. What a great reading experience. Jessica Nelson is a genius at composing the perfect duet between autobiographical resonance and wholly inventive incident. The city of Philadelphia itself is a shady character here —but mainly this is an indispensable tale of family dysfunction and redemption. It's like being read to by an excitable, melancholy, and vivid storyteller extraordinaire." —Howard Norman, author of Next Life Might Be Kinder
"If Only You People Could Follow Directions breaks apart the pieces of family relationships, turns the pieces around, and puts them back together in a way that shows us how love, pain, death, addiction, mental illness, beauty, rage, and compassion are all embedded within one another. Jessica Hendry Nelson has remade autobiography into an unforgettable kaleidoscope where what seems broken is really, and astonishingly, precisely the thing holding your heart together. So you can keep going. So you know what love is. You will never say "family" the same way again." — Lidia Yuknavitch, The Chronology of Water
"Memory doesn't move in a straight line. It is chaotic, digressive, and imperfect. While most memoirs force life into the restrictions of straight lines, Nelson embraces the chaos by moving back and forth in time, free associating among memories, and organizing her life into a series of essays. What could be just another memoir of a family disintegrated by substance abuse becomes a vibrant and challenging exploration of abuse, obsession, coping, family, friendship, and self–discovery."– Josh Cook, Porter Square Books, Cambridge, MA
"This memoir in essays brings to mind Jo Ann Beard's The Boys of My Youth. It's a book for anyone who has ever been young and trying to find themselves – which is to say, it's a book for everyone. Nelson's punch–you–in–the–heart prose is incandescently beautiful.– Michele Filgate, Community Bookstore, Brooklyn, NY
"A stunning debut. Nelson is a writer to watch, not just for her sure–footed prose and her adept storytelling ability, but also because she survived a family defined by addiction and psychological destruction. Nelson grew up as the daughter of an alcoholic father and a mother who varied between best friend and neglectful parent. Her brother Eric is also an addict and suffers from bipolar disorder. It is no surprise that she and many of her closest friends had plenty of exposure to drugs, alcohol, and destructive behaviors during her formative years. Despite her background and her childhood, Nelson graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a degree in English and earned an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Her survival is a story in and of itself, but it is her writing that is the true standout in this memoir." – Terry Louchheim Gilman, Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore, San Diego
"Nelson writes in stark, harrowing detail about the devastation alcohol and drugs have inflicted on her family over the years as Nelson strives to find balance and peace, she manages to offer hope that survival is possible." —Publishers Weekly<//p>