When I purchased Murdering My Youth I didn’t expect it to be very good. With very few exceptions celebrity memoirs are awful. I ordered it anyway because I love memoirs and Cady McClain was once part of my fictional therapy. (Listen, real therapy is expensive. I replaced it by assembling an understanding of life through the art of others.) McClain is best known for her role as Dixie Cooney Chandler Martin Lawson Bodine Martin on the now canceled American television series All My Children. Tad Martin (the unreliable hero to her unreliable heroine) was taken as a child from his abusive father and placed with a loving upper middle class family. Being of a similar age to the character the storyline really spoke to me as a kid (which carried over into adulthood).
“The problem was you have to have been taken care of in order to know how to take care of yourself. You have to be taught how to do it.” – Murdering My Youth (4/15/14) by Cady McClain
McClain’s book is not a soapy celebrity gossip fest. Murdering My Youth focuses on her own abusive childhood, one marked by alcohol and rage. There’s something about adults who were abused children. We can see each other in a room. We laugh in what others deem the wrong places. McClain details some harrowing personal stories with an eye to that laugh. When she thanks her parents for dying young I know exactly why she’s grateful. (My aspirational clothing line is Future Orphan.) McClain’s successful early career was hampered by a chaotic home life. Her parents (both holding legal degrees) ignored the Coogan Act, forcing their child to financially support them. McClain recognizes that her ability to do so offered some control over an uncontrollable upbringing. It also allowed her to afford real therapy, as well as proximity to the world of recovery groups.
Neither the McClain’s nor the author are spared in this look at their lives. While McClain glosses over a probable eating disorder she is open about her struggles with personal intimacy and trust. She makes every effort to portray her family as fully realized beings with reasons for their actions. There is an honesty in Murdering My Youth that takes decades to achieve. There is a reason so many recovery groups focus on the concept that we are only as sick as our secrets. By keeping the details of our lives hidden we waste precious energy maintaining a facade built to protect others. Having the courage to live in the truth is a radical act.
“If you can break the habit of being attracted to what you know, you’ve actually got a chance to not repeat your past. If your past is anything like mine, you’ve got all the motivation you need.” – Murdering My Youth (4/15/14) by Cady McClain
Readers looking for a traditional actress memoir may be disappointed by McClain’s failure to dish. With the exception of a few blind pieces and a handful of named anecdotes McClain keeps the focus on her personal life. She’s edited wisely, leaving enough on the table to write a lighter book in the future. McClain has a few minor editing errors. Her style of jumping through time and place feels disjointed before eventually smoothing out into a well assembled narrative. A natural storyteller adept at placing events in specific times, her eye to detail pays off as she (and her family) spiral downward before climbing back up. In places McClain’s knack for touching lightly on difficult memories reminded me of the McCourt brothers. Murdering My Youth ends in her mid-twenties, catching the reader up to her far happier present in the epilogue.
*This post originally appeared at Love In The Margins.