An Incredible Talent for Existing – A Writer’s Story

This review of Pamela Jane’s memoir is part of the W.O.W. (Women on Writing) Blog Tour.

Cover of An Incredible Talent for Existing


Linda’s Review

With an arresting honesty and an inquiring mind that always seems to race through time and space, Pamela Jane’s story unfolds and folds back upon itself with the sensibility of a poet, the broad strokes and tiny dots of an accomplished artist, and the psychological awareness of a sensitive, compassionate therapist.

Her “incredible talent for existing” exemplifies a remarkable ability to enter the mind of her very young self as well as her adult self, fighting to interpret what’s real in her world and creating stories to soothe her soul whenever what was real was too dismal, too uninspiring or confusing to allow her to breathe. “In my own seven year old way,” she writes: “I became a workaholic, striving to be someone – a Crayon God, a famous character in a book or TV sitcom – anything but an anonymous little girl living in an anonymous Midwestern suburb.” . . . . . . . . . “I didn’t realize,” she later adds, “ that by imagining myself as a character in my own novel or sitcom . . .I was evolving, slowly and unsteadily, into a writer. Through striving to be, I was becoming.”

The fluidity of her writing is a dramatic reminder of how as readers we bring our own experiences and thoughts, prejudices and priorities with us to whatever we read. The more universal the theme of any book, the better able we are to identify with the characters and the story line. Yet, what distinguishes a mediocre or even good story-teller from a great one, is when we find ourselves unable to put a book down and are fully entranced by not merely the subject matter but the very words chosen that dance across each page, finding a home in every sentence, taking us along with the author’s pain and pleasures, her questions and the answers she finds to help her to make sense of life.

Her poetic images are exciting and universal. Who can’t identify with: “November came, that time when the world fades to gray and sounds fade to silence.”

How many of us realized in our teens that “loss” is a gift to a writer? “Perhaps I dimly felt this,” she writes, “because as I stood there I sensed the roundedness of life, the losing of one chapter and the opening of another in the story. . . . . . . Most of the time I felt invisible, even to myself. My main accomplishment, as I saw it, was the novelty of my own consciousness and my awareness of it. I am here and I know that I am here was tremendously significant, but no one, including me, saw how I was going to amaze the world by the stunning fact of my existence.”

In “AN INCREDIBLE TALENT FOR EXISTING,” she definitely succeeds in amazing us!

When I began reading Pamela’s book, I had no idea that in addition to the fact that we are contemporaries, our paths –both external and emotional – mirror each other’s in many ways. We’ve lived in some of the same cities and states; walked the same country paths and looked out onto mountain ranges that invited us to see them with eyes that awakened our imagination and gave our lives meaning. We both experienced (though again in different ways and to different degrees) the mental illness of our mothers, which at critical times forced us to question our own sanity as we were witnesses to the dysfunction within our families and victims of deprivation.

While her life’s journey is most assuredly an eye opening account of life in the 60s – a rebellious time when many young women entered a confusing but exciting and liberating sexual revolution with alluring experimentations of all kinds — unlike Pamela, I was too immersed in personal traumas to become engaged in the fast changing culture of that revolution. Yet, our lives were filled with similar heartaches and dreams, failures and successes, and perhaps most importantly, in sharing our life’s stories we have each managed to find our voice, to share an overriding need to be visible and to make a difference in the world.

“This is what writing memoir is like,” she concludes. “You go back to the past and discover hidden, sometimes dark forces in the images you recorded. You blow them up and examine them to see what is really there. . . It’s like struggling with those slippery equations that had eluded me in algebra class, but instead of numbers, I’m working with themes, structure, and storyline.”

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves to read and who appreciates poetry in the written word!

Publisher’s Synopsis:
It is 1965, the era of love, light and revolution. While the romantic narrator imagines a bucolic future in an old country house with children running through the dappled sunlight, her husband plots to organize a revolution and fight a guerrilla war in the Catskills.

Their fantasies are on a collision course.

The clash of visions turns into an inner war of identities when the author embraces radical feminism; she and her husband are comrades in revolution but combatants in marriage; she is a woman warrior who spends her days sewing long silk dresses reminiscent of a Henry James novel. One half of her isn’t speaking to the other half.

And then, just when it seems that things cannot possibly get more explosive, her wilderness cabin burns down and Pamela finds herself left with only the clothes on her back.

From her vividly evoked existential childhood (“the only way I would know for sure that I existed was if others, lots of others acknowledged it”) to writing her first children’s book on a sugar high during a glucose tolerance test, Pamela Jane takes the reader along on a highly entertaining personal, political, and psychological adventure.

Paperback: 246 pages
Genre:  Memoir
Publisher:  Open Books Press (February 1, 2016)
ISBN-10: 1941799213
ISBN-13: 978-1941799215
Amazon Link: click here

Categories: Book Reviews

Linda is a well-known and sought-after book reviewer.

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  • Exquisitely written review. Such a pleasure to read intelligent and sensitive reactions to the written word.

  • Karen Gowen says:

    What a beautiful review! It’s interesting that you found your life mirroring Pamela’s in so many ways. I was a contemporary as well but stayed away from the counterculture of the Sixties. I think this is one reason why I enjoyed the memoir so much– I could see what was going on with many of my peers.

  • Mystic Voyager says:

    You’ve provided us with such a beautiful entry into the writer’s style and the value of her work. If I were to ever publish anything, I would definitely want a review from you to accompany it!

  • What a great and inspiring review, Lin. It definitely makes me want to read Pamela’s book. Poetry in the written word is indeed compelling.

    Pamela was also a guest on my blog, Choices. She gave my readers three important memoir writing tips. Here’s the link. I think your readers will be interested.