What an interesting read. I don’t think it shook me in the way it did for many people, but on reflection that has to do more with Louis then Westover. I think. Let me try to explain.
For those of you who, like me, didn’t read this book when it first came out, Westover’s story is so wild it seems like it must be fiction. And honestly, I imagine parts of it were. I’ve mentioned before that memoirs are all about the author’s perspective.
What isn’t fictitious, is that she was raised in very rural Idaho to a unique family. Her family are devote Mormon so she and her many siblings were raised under very strict religious circumstances. Unfortunately, as Westover got older, her father grew more and more fearful of outside forces until he became extremely paranoid. He believed the devil, the government, then later the illuminati, were all out to get them.
In light of this paranoia, he didn’t allow his last few children to become a part of the system and none of them were registered with the state at birth. Westover didn’t have a birth certificate until she was 9. And that was only the tip of the iceberg. They practiced military style drills to get off the mountain where they lived, hid fuel and guns and ammo around their property. The kids weren’t allowed to go to public school and spent most of their time working under horrible and often very dangerous conditions at their father’s scrap yard.
The types of injuries the children obtained at the yard were difficult to read about. Excruciating really.
It was equally as difficult to read about the rule Westover’s father had about not taking anyone to the doctor. More than once I assumed a sibling was going to die under their mother’s homemade remedies.
All this combined means it’s pretty shocking when Westover gets into BYU at like 16 or whatever it is. She’d disagreed with her father about things, she knew things at her house weren’t normal, but the culture shock is like reading the account of an alien dropped onto earth with no preparation. She includes a story where she asks a professor what the word holocausts means because she’s never heard of it.
She takes a psych course, realizes her dad is probably schizophrenic and bipolar, battles a lot of demons and eventually ends up at the grad program in Cambridge. She’s been going home to the mountain for breaks and it’s becoming more and more obvious that it isn’t a safe situation. One of her brothers was always manipulative and abusive but becomes more aggressive with age and injury. On one visit, he threatens to kill her with the same knife he used to butcher their dog.
She tells her mom, sister, and a few other women about her brother’s abuse. Of course, all these women are aware of what’s been going on for years.
But each one of them acts like Westover is insane and takes her brother’s side. An effort lead by her dad.
Unfortunately, Westover ends up spiraling out of control. Her boyfriend can’t pull her out of it, she can’t focus on school and is in danger of failing, she’s at Harvard at this point, and decides to go back to the mountain.
While there, she decides she should stop returning. She gathers some old journals and hightails it out of there. The only family members she keeps in contact with are the few siblings and extended family who believed her and stood by her.
The last like, five sentences of the book Westover is like the only siblings that got off that mountain were those of us who fought and went to school and made something of ourselves. So education is important.
Which I admit, I didn’t love.
This whole thing felt like such a selective retelling, to cap it off with a general aspirational statement felt like trying to justify the story instead of an honest ending.
It didn’t feel like the emphasis was on the importance of education so much as it was about her long battle with her past and strength of character to finally get out.
Now, I don’t know Westover and I could never speak to her specific life experience. But to do so well in school, she would study so intensely she went days without sleeping and often forgot to eat. She was so stressed about school, that she made herself physically ill more than once. At Harvard, she would go into depressive states where she would not leave her bed for days and watch entire TV series in one sitting.
All of this seems like she may have some manic tendencies. Possibly genetically inherited from her dad. I’m not saying she should be blamed for these actions.
But she never even mentions the possibility that her behavior may be based on her physiology. She puts the blame squarely on her upbringing.
Which is probably mostly true! And she isn’t obligated to disclose her mental health to us as readers. But then to be like, education is a big deal guys!
She also talked a lot about her aha moments and the people who were huge fans of hers. At one point, her professor hears about her life and says something like, it’s like you’ve stepped out of Pygmalion. Like, is that real? Did we need to know that? At one point they’re standing on a roof a building and she has this moment that a different professor is like you’re so different from other kids. And she’s like, I’m not afraid of gravity. Or something.
If you needed to write and share your story to heal, that’s great but then do that.
More than that, it was really difficult for me to be sympathetic when she kept going home.
I know family is tricky. Throw in her upbringing and I can’t even imagine. But if you’re a grown adult, your brother has been abusing you for years, your whole family has excused and allowed it, he threatens to kill you, and you still go back? Many times?
I don’t know what to say.
Which is why I think The End of Eddy colored my reading so heavily.
Edward Louis had a terrible childhood. Dirt poor, an uneducated and uncaring family, bullies and school and sexual abuse disguised as boys being boys . Everyone made his life hell because he wasn’t manly enough for them and they didn’t even know he was gay.
But there was no mental illness or religious undertones to explain anyone’s behavior. It was just a hard group of people living a hard life. So when Edward was old enough, he got into a better school, moved away, and eventually changed his name.
Absolutely his past still impacts every area of his life, often in negative ways, but it felt like much more of an honest account. There were no excuses, it was awful and life has been hard but he’s moving forward.
Part of that impression may have to do with the translation. Perhaps in French, his story is much more emotionally wrought. But to go from that to Westover’s story was odd.
So I’m not sure how I feel about Educated. And I’m honestly not sure it matters. If this is what Westover needed to do for her, then that’s great. If other people have been able to identify and it helped them, all the better. That’s what counts.