You Never Know, You Might Learn Something

You Never Know, You Might Learn Something

John Gall What do these memoirs have in common? They contain subtle lessons in persistence, coping and, yes, cleanliness. Credit…John Gall Cassandra Jackson was in her 30s when she first encountered the expression “replacement child,” and it took her breath away. Coined by psychologists in the '60s to describe a son or daughter conceived to fill the void after another child's death, “the term is the closest I will come,” Jackson writes in her anguished, affecting , THE WRECK: A Daughter's Memoir of Becoming a Mother (Viking, 307 pp., $28) , “to a name for what I am.” The puzzle of her identity had confounded her since her childhood in small-town Alabama, when visits to relatives were met with long looks and “She just like 'em,” uttered in hushed, awed tones. Only little by little did her parents, frozen into silence by grief, reveal the tragedy behind the stares: In 1960, 12 years before Jackson's birth, a car accident ended the lives of her father's first wife, his mother, his sister and her husband, and his 3-year-old niece, San, for whom Jackson is named. Unlike her older sister, who she eventually learns has a different father (more secrets), Jackson is long and lean, the spitting image of her paternal kin: “an Alabama Black girl with knees the color of burnt newspaper.” Both a redemption and a reminder — “a replacement for too many dead to count” — she grows up bowed by the weight of all her family will not say. Jackson deftly intertwines the of her search for the truth “the wreck” with her infertility struggle; she longs for a baby, she comes to realize, in part as a “replacement child” for a new generation. Along with the trauma of her family's past, racism shadows every corner of her narrative. One specialist, Black herself, tells Jackson that infertility is a white woman's problem and she just needs to have more sex. And when she tracks down Jim Crow-era news accounts of her family's accident, which also killed a white couple, the stories erroneously place blame on […]

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