Allison Price’s memoir, Sunset Sanitarium chronicles a youth scarred by a violent and abusive father.
Price and her nine siblings were frequent victims of their father’s physical and verbal abuse and their mother’s passive acquiescence. The author vividly recalls an incident when her father mercilessly kicked her brother, who cowered in a corner, as her mother stood by repeating, “It’s OK, it’s OK.” The blind obedience required by the Catholic Church as a prerequisite for unconditional love further solidified her deep feelings of inadequacy. Her grandmother was her sole refuge from depression and isolation.
The family lived in homes adjacent to highways and railroad tracks, until moving to the country, where Price eventually grew to love the freedom and beauty of her surroundings. She recalls these years as a time for “discovering, learning and experiencing.” She left the family at age 18, eventually marrying and having two children. After living through a “home invasion robbery” in her late 40s, she sought psychoanalysis for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, eventually addressing her childhood traumas and finding understanding and peace.
The process of writing about her past clearly was instrumental to her finding “a gratifying moment of understanding,” as she writes. But for readers, Price’s journey to healing remains elusive. Evidence of her growing self-esteem isn’t presented until the book’s final pages when the author recounts verbalizing her independence and feelings of self-worth to her parents. Until then, the narrative offers only cursory mention of any personal insights.
Price’s memoir is neither wholly chronological nor thematic in structure, making the narrative somewhat disjointed. The stream-of-consciousness writing style is often repetitive and some sentences are puzzling (“What perfection looks comes through those minds set and construed with imperfections.”) Additionally, frequent misspellings (“there secrets”) and grammatical errors (“me and Sam”) detract from the narrative.
Such issues are likely to limit the book’s appeal to a general audience. Nevertheless, Sunset Sanitarium may offer the solace to other survivors of child abuse.