It’s no wonder Cherylann Thomas grew up to be hard-drinking, pill-popping, and promiscuous. As described in her memoir, Evil Eyes, her father, in and out of prison, is nearly a nonentity; her mother is at best neglectful and casually cruel, and her stepfather is a molester. Thomas runs away as a teenager and flits among jobs, men, homes and controlled substances. A tragedy central to the book is not unexpected, given the chaos of her world.
With the exception of that incident, Thomas’s narrative races through five decades of her life with little sense of proportion, robbing individual moments of their power. She spends nearly as much ink berating her mother for outfitting her as a ghoul instead of a princess one Halloween as she does on the sudden death of a beloved baby nephew. She “diagnoses” relatives’ psychological ailments with the help of Google and pop-culture figures like Dr. Drew and Dr. Phil, undercutting her credibility.
Thomas is at her best when she turns attention away from her family to larger issues. A chapter on suicide, urging empathy for those who see it as the only solution to unbearable pain, is both raw and effective.
Inevitably, though, Thomas’s portrayal of herself raises problems. She is always the victim, even when her own behavior mirrors that of others she so relentlessly castigates. She demands custody of a granddaughter, for example, then sloughs the little girl off on others while she takes a six-week cruise to recover from stress. Thomas recounts terribly personal things about the child, even though it’s unclear whether the girl had any say in those revelations.
Thomas says she wrote her book to help others avoid destructive relationships. One wishes she’d gone a step further. Some advice in getting beyond the corrosive anger and bitterness she still seems to harbor would have been edifying for all.
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