I Almost Gave Up…, by P.J. Ingram-McPhee
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Outskirts Press in exchange for an honest review.]
I requested this book originally some months ago, and I almost gave up on ever receiving it. In fact, I was mildly surprised to receive the book in my mailbox last night from the Floridian author, a retired African-American social worker who is fond of quoting the King James Version of the Bible . Fortunately, though this book presents itself as a notable example of my collection of memoirs of difficult lives , a type of writing that appears to be very common, at least because so many examples of it end up in my own personal library, and that along with its short length (at 62 pages, this is an extremely short book by any standards) are commendable.
There are quite a few virtues that this little book provides. One is that this book is an artless and honest portrayal of a difficult life. In terms of its writing style, this work resembles a somewhat less polished and less lengthy (and certainly less coherent) form of a memoir I recently reviewed for the Naval Historical Institute , or a chapter in one of the better William Faulkner novels showing the point of view of a Southern woman seeking to prove her sanity in the midst of skeptical questioners. In many ways, I see much of the difficulties that the author talks about (frequent health difficulties, a passion for social work, a strict family background, a somewhat unsympathetic husband, and some struggles in bonding with her children) to remind me of some of my own family members. About a third of the book is taken up by a Murphy’s Law-like account  titled “If it could go wrong, it did!” A great deal of the value of this book is provided in the fact that the author is so relatable.
That said, given the short length that this book contains, it could very easily have been far longer, which may have been useful for a few reasons. Among them, it might have provided a balancing narrative of how the writer came to a greater faith in God despite injuries sustained through an accident with a drunk driver that led to expensive medical bills and long-term difficulties. The author presents some illustrative stories of a childhood formed by very strict parenting, including a great deal of spanking , from her parents (one of whom was a minister), but leaves the reader to connect the harsh upbringing to the author’s self-evident anxiety and nervousness and depression issues even today. Given the author’s history with panic attacks and her career as a social worker that focused on investigating child abuse as well as being a juvenile probation officer, I expected to read an account of harrowing child sexual abuse similar to the sort of memoir that I would feel compelled to write if I ever took that thankless task on myself. To my surprise, I did not see any sort of sexual abuse discussed in this book at all, even if the author’s seeming poor memory of childhood gave additional suggestions that there was more to this story than was being written.
So, taken as a whole, this is a book that ought to appeal to a somewhat wide audience. The zany names of many of the people in this memoir do not seem too unusual given the context of contemporary African-American nomenclature but would be very unusual to those of us with more staid backgrounds. Those who grew up in strict family backgrounds where a premium was placed on appearing to be put together even when everything was going wrong (where pretense was frequently practiced, that is) will find much to commiserate with. Likewise, those who might have similar stories but lack the confidence to write about them will likely be encouraged by the successful struggle of the author to write about her life and draw meaningful spiritual lessons from it despite her own lack of confidence and the physical pain suffered as a result of long-term health problems and the occasional insults of others about her mental and emotional state. That alone makes this a worthwhile book.
 See, for example: