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Malnourished: A Memoir of Sisterhood and Hunger

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A painful and emotive memoir about sisters growing up amid family dysfunction, eating disorders, sexual abuse, and mental health issues

Synopsis

When Cinthia Ritchie remembers her older sister, she envisions the thin jut of a clavicle bone, the concave stomach, the face pulled tight from lack of fat. Her sister, who lived a life void of food and excess, died of eating disorder complications while driving a taxicab in Florida. In this moving memoir, Ritchie traces the trajectory of her sister’s death back to their stepfather’s farm, where they roamed the fields by day and yearned for protection during the long, dark nights. Malnourished dives deep inside the things we dare not speak—secrets, obsessions, deviations—demonstrating in lyrical prose how the damage done in childhood colors the taste of things to come. It’s a journey through hunger and grief that ultimately chronicles the healing power of forgiveness, and love.

If there's one book that you read this year, let it be this one.


The eloquence, honesty, and raw emotion of Ritchie's writing is so overwhelming that this book will stay with me for a long time. She speaks poetically and unapologetically about her struggles with mental health and eating disorders.


Ritchie begins with a description of the idyllic life that she and her sisters led on their stepfather's farm, running wild across the huge property. Except for the nights, when she writes (in whispers) about sexual abuse, which robbed her of the ability to sleep soundly for the rest of her life.


The bond between the author and her elder sister, Deena, is described with such sensitivity and beauty that I felt my heart break when Deena started displaying strange behavior and refusing to eat.


I was in despair when the family appeared to fail to act to prevent the disaster unfolding in front of their eyes. Deena grows dangerously close to death and voices in her head keep telling her that men are out to rape her and kill her.


Initially, their mother is described as a character on the sidelines of their life, but later, her motives and aspirations are revealed. Cinthia speaks of how their mother seemed indifferent to the clear warning signs of dysfunction. In retrospect, it appears she was fighting demons of her own.


Cinthia's troubled relationship with food appears to leave a mark on every other aspect of her life. The sense of taste affords immense satisfaction to her. As a child, she eats earth, rocks, and plants. As an adult, she gives in to her animal urges and tastes people and objects to feel connected to them. Episodes of cutting are described on and off throughout the memoir.


By her own admission, Cinthia's version of events is not entirely reliable, so we can only guess which parts are true and which are a product of her traumatized mind.


It is incredibly brave of Cinthia to bare all in her memoir, parts of which may be too graphic for some readers. She has opened herself to judgment by sharing deeply personal information, but she writes with such candor and feeling that I hope readers will view the book for the absolute gem it is.


Reviewed by

I'm an avid reader of both fiction and non-fiction.

I'm open to reading books of all genres except horror, erotica, and spirituality.

I enjoy mystery, romance, and science fiction novels.

I'm also interested in non-fiction books on business, health & wellness, and self-help.

Synopsis

When Cinthia Ritchie remembers her older sister, she envisions the thin jut of a clavicle bone, the concave stomach, the face pulled tight from lack of fat. Her sister, who lived a life void of food and excess, died of eating disorder complications while driving a taxicab in Florida. In this moving memoir, Ritchie traces the trajectory of her sister’s death back to their stepfather’s farm, where they roamed the fields by day and yearned for protection during the long, dark nights. Malnourished dives deep inside the things we dare not speak—secrets, obsessions, deviations—demonstrating in lyrical prose how the damage done in childhood colors the taste of things to come. It’s a journey through hunger and grief that ultimately chronicles the healing power of forgiveness, and love.

Anchorage, Alaska: Prologue

Even though I hadn’t been born yet, I still remember my second-oldest sister’s birth, my mother carrying her home from the hospital wrapped in a blue blanket, because she was only the second and my father still had hopes for a boy. The light in the living room hazy and soft, since it was the beginning of March and twilight only lasted a few moments.

We stood around, my oldest sister and I, we stood at the legs of our father, his pants dark and wrinkled and smelling of tobacco and dust, and we strained our toes, trying to make ourselves taller. My mother leaned down and held Deena in front of us, and she was so small, her face pinched in disapproval, her tiny hands punching. The corner of her mouth turned down slightly so that she looked both young and old, wise and unknowing.

She stunned me, this sister of mine with the wizened face and the angry fists. I wanted to touch her but kept my arms straight at my sides, elbows locked and stubborn. It was as if I knew, even then, that she would balk at receiving affection, that this was the one grace she would never quite master.


# 


Spring in Alaska creeps slowly, birch trees pale and bare and then, without warning, tiny buds sprouting until there is green, such a bright and hopeful green that it almost hurts to witness.

Deena didn’t die in the spring, but I always think of her then because she was so closed, so hidden, she kept to herself, slept all day in a series of shabby apartments, coming out only at night, talking to no one but her dog.

I didn’t know she lived like that, though maybe I did.

Probably I did. What happened next was as much my fault as hers, which simply means that you can be swept away, willingly and with abandon.

This is what happened to Deena, and to me. We fell. Down in the grass, in the green and damp grass.

There can be worse ways to go, Cin, she whispers to me.

That’s a lie. There was no whisper, no voice. I made that up to make myself feel better. 


#


I eat grass. I prefer clover but also like flowers, violets, chamomile buds, and the sharp and bitter tang of dandelion greens.

Sometimes when I’m hiking, I place small stones in my mouth, suck off the dirt, run my tongue over the edges, the indentations, the tiny ridges.

It’s impossible to keep things out of my mouth. 


# 


When my son was younger, we used to drive out to Turnagain Arm and wait for the beluga whales, which arrived on the late summer tides to feed on salmon. We stood on rocks above the shore, we stood in rain and sun, waiting for those ghost-white bodies and when we spotted one, our chests fluttered as we watched it lift up out of the water, back gleaming, tail flicking. It was like being inside a movie, surreal and magical. Once, we looked up to find a beluga whale swimming alongside the beach. Up close, it was more of a greyish shade, more ordinary and yet more majestic than when glimpsed from a distance.

Memory is a funny thing, isn’t it, how it adds and subtracts, takes something as simple as watching a whale swim along the shore and mixes it up in your mind so that your sister is there beside you, even though she’s been dead for years. Still, this is what you remember: the wind and the smell of the marsh, the silver-blue tint of an Alaska twilight spreading the water, and beyond it all, the small and simple feel of your dead sister’s hand slipping inside of yours.

What else can you possibly do? You tighten your grip. You hold on. 




About the author

Cinthia Ritchie is an award-winning Alaska writer and ultrarunner, with work in New York Times Magazine, Evening Street Review, Chicago Tribune, Alaska Magazine, Water-Stone Review, Sport Literate,Memoir and others. Her first novel DOLLS BEHAVING BADLY released through Hachette Book Group, view profile

Published on January 21, 2020

Published by Raised Book Press

40000 words

Genre: Biographies & Memoirs

Reviewed by

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