All in the Family: A Multicultural Memoir

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“They never tell us about the odysseys of women,” the novelist Susan Straight writes in her latest book, a family memoir that stretches back to the mid-19th century and traverses a forest of family trees. “Women don’t get the Heroine’s Journey.” She wants her daughters to know about their forebears — women who survived every kind of violence and crossed continents with “murder and marrow on their minds.” There are dozens of ancestors in this well-researched book. At times, too many. Straight’s large extended family is African-American, Mexican-American, Cherokee, Creek, Swiss, Irish, English, French, Filipino, Samoan, Haitian. We sense that she wants to give all of them their due. But in the process, the reader senses that two of the most important figures in her life — her mother and father — remain mysteriously shadowed, only half complete. It’s not her fault. She does her best to pull information out of Richard Straight, who speaks little of his haunted past, even as a man in his 80s. We learn that he grew up in the isolated, far heights of the Colorado Rockies, “his feet damaged by frostbite, his memory damaged by terror.” There is more, and worse, Straight tells us, but that story will have to wait for “another book.”