Janice Costello, according to the back cover of My Personal History My Story, compiled this memoir so her grandchildren would know what made her “sad, happy and shocked.” In these pages, she describes evocative childhood scenes, such as farming with her father, and moving moments of mid-life personal growth, such as when she overcame fears by joining Toastmasters.
The stories are not arranged chronologically, and readers only gradually glean where Costello lives (Australia) and when the stories are taking place (the reference to the birth of her twin sons in 1971 is nearly the only time she mentions a year). She refers to grief and struggle after her husband died young from cancer, but he, like other people in the author’s life, make only fleeting appearances.
Costello’s memoir is organized like a writing class sketchbook. Throughout, she sets up many of her stories with vague writing prompts, such as “First Story: The Worth of Money Changes Even People” and “Second Story: Talk about things that calm your mind and soul.” Most stories are just a few pages, not enough to flesh out characters and scenes, and she admits that “some are just incidences” as opposed to complete stories.
Costello sprinkles writing “how to’s” throughout—such as “Adjectives can make your story come alive”— furthering the impression that the book is the product of a writing class. Her writing also seems to serve as a cathartic diary without really telling a story with beginning, middle and end, as when she reflects upon masking her anger after receiving a negative reaction to a speech.
Reading how this widowed mother stepped outside her comfort zone and gained confidence, in part by putting her stories on paper, may encourage others to take risks. But given the book’s incomplete feel, its appeal is likely to be limited to the writer’s stated audience.
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