Under a Dark Eye
by Sharon Dunn

Texas Tech University Press, 2017. ISBN 978-0-896-72986-5.
Reviewed by Mary Potter Kenyon
Posted on 10/30/2017

Nonfiction: Memoir

It could be my degree in Psychology, but I never imagined I would be so fascinated by an author's delving into the psyche of her own (dysfunctional) family. In Under a Dark Eye, author Sharon Dunn utilizes letters, journals, newspapers, photographs, and her own memories to piece together a careful study and character sketch of a troubled and cruel father. Dunn makes a few leaps in her conclusions, but the leaps make perfect sense. Serious illness, repeated job failures, dependency upon a woman, and war-time experiences would definitely contribute to the making of a damaged man.

I make a leap of my own to conclude that Dunn's book serves both as apology and explanation to the younger brother she loved but whom she failed to protect from her father's wrath. That she continued to admire a father who would treat his son so badly is something she seems to struggle with in this beautifully written memoir.

Dunn searches for an explanation as to why her mother, a brilliant psychiatrist, did not protect her son, or even stand up for herself. I find myself wondering why she would know intimate details about her mother, such as her weight, and still not managed to have discussed these kinds of things with her, after her father's death. In her mother's last years, Dunn would dine with her each week, even staying overnight and talking for hours on end, when they enjoyed each other's company. Yet they didn't talk about the one thing that must have plagued them both?

Dunn's powerfully-written poetry appears throughout the book. I will admit I was initially confused. Whose poetry was this? There was nothing in the introduction or the body of book to indicate it was the author's own. Once I realized it had to be hers (she is a poet, after all) I enjoyed reading the poems that fit the sections of the book. It is obvious that Dunn has used her poetry to work through angst for years.

This book was well researched, well written, and brutally honest. At times, it was painful to read how the author's brother suffered emotional duress at the hands of his father. That he was able to recognize his father's mental illness, or mental weakness, at a young age was extraordinary. I hope that both the author and her brother managed to excavate some healing along with the research.

After reading this book, I'd like to read Dunn's book of poems, My Brother and I.

Sharon Dunn was born in New York State, spent her childhood in New Hampshire and subsequently lived in New York City, Brussels, London and Cambridge, Massachusetts. For over thirty years she was partners with her brother in growing a family business in New Hampshire and was editor/publisher of seventeen issues of AGNI, a literary magazine of fiction and poetry. She has previously published two books of poetry, My Brother and I and Refugees in the Garden. She currently lives in Leverett, Massachusetts and Cape Cod.

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