Her Last Death
Her Last Death

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Susanna's mother gave her a copy of Penthouse when she was a ten-year-old, cocaine when she was 12, and seduced her boyfriend at 14. Sonnenberg recounts "the true calamity of being daughter to this mother." The glory of this memoir is that the author survived her traumatic childhood and somehow navigated her way to a deftly written book capturing her dismantled youth. The daughter of a glamorous, falling-down addict of a mother and a gifted, self-absorbed father, Sonnenberg never falls into the trap of attempting to analyze two people never meant to be parents. Instead, we are allowed to feel the strange and powerful familial currencies running between mother and daughter through the keenly observed writing of Sonnenberg. The writing is razor-sharp and raw, a significant feat considering the untethered early years of this immensely talented writer. --Molly Jay

Susanna's mother gave her a copy of Penthouse when she was a ten-year-old, cocaine when she was 12, and seduced her boyfriend at 14. Sonnenberg recounts "the true calamity of being daughter to this mother." The glory of this memoir is that the author survived her traumatic childhood and somehow navigated her way to a deftly written book capturing her dismantled youth. The daughter of a glamorous, falling-down addict of a mother and a gifted, self-absorbed father, Sonnenberg never falls into the trap of attempting to analyze two people never meant to be parents. Instead, we are allowed to feel the strange and powerful familial currencies running between mother and daughter through the keenly observed writing of Sonnenberg. The writing is razor-sharp and raw, a significant feat considering the untethered early years of this immensely talented writer

Customer Reviews:

  • Sexy and Harrowing
    A brutally honest memoir from a brilliant first-time author. Sonnenberg grabs you by the throat on page one and never lets you go. She has truly plumbed the depths of her soul to bring us this astonishing book. I can only gape at the courage it must have taken to sit down in a quiet room, to travel back to all those exotic, yet painful places and drag the memories up and out. Some are delicious and naughty. Some are horrifying. Most will shock you. But the beauty and subtly of the sentences she crafts will leave you wanting more. When I came to the end, I was weeping and cheering for her at the same time. Amazed that a book could elicit such a reaction, and wondering how she not only survived her childhood, but managed to come through it with so much strength, self-assurance and wisdom. I found myself unable to put this book down. If you liked Tobias Wolff's THIS BOY'S LIFE, this girl's life will top it....more info
  • Was my mom any better?
    After reading the Sonnenberg's introduction, I expected her mother to be a heinous beast, and as I read, I kept waiting for that ugly woman to surface--what could be so awful to prevent Sonnenberg from speaking to her ever again?

    Some ugliness does come about--there are instances when the mother's behavior is weird, embarrassing, and maybe a little illegal. BUT, if you look at it in the proper context and circumstance (that the mother was probably bi-polar or with some other emotional disorder--ie. she's sick; and the time in America--the 60's where such emphasis on childcare as we have now did not exist, nor did the knowledge about how bad drugs are etc, the fact she was a single mother at a very young age...), it all makes perfect sense to me. I could not muster the kind of support Sonnenberg seems after. Her mother did the best she could as far as I can see.

    I thought Sonnenberg's behavior was much crazier than her mother's. But that seems to be her point. This book seems to be Sonnenberg's attempt to explain her own behavior by blaming it on her mother's influence.

    I thought this memoir would document similar parenting as found in The Glass Castle. Anyone looking for a great memoir, look there instead. Castle is compelling, a page turner, and you'll feel that your own parenting is saintly. ...more info
  • The Apple Don't Fall Far From the Tree
    This is full of self-absorbed people...she wouldn't smoke pot, but it was okay to snort cocaine...the promiscuity....she knew better...the privileged don't live like us normal folks...no morals, etc......more info
  • hum......."
    I'll admit that I blew through this book, and found many passages very well written, but it hardly merited a glowing NYT review and subsequent high praise. That, I'm certain, had more to do with the author's lineage than the strength of her writing. Furthermore, the emphasis on sex was often disturbing. What was the point of including such salacious details? My guess: the author thought it was literature, art....not sure I agree. Overall, it was at times both a good read and a taxing one. . ...more info
  • Oy, she lives on...
    "Daphne" was truly the mother-from-hell. Narcissistic/drug addled/maybe bi-polar, this woman really should have been erased from the gene pool years ago. Susanna's memoir is well written and, thank god, the author has recovered from her upbringing. ...more info
  • too absurd to be fiction!
    Loved this book. The only downside is that I got thru to too quickly! It is a compelling read that focuses on an unhealthy mother/daughter relationship. Very touching....more info
  • Riveting and Brutally Honest
    Absolutely amazing...it is raw and honest and brutally truthful. It is rare to see someone open their soul up like this on paper ith such grace and prose that makes the reader understand in such a fundamental way. In the end it makes you realize that as as adults we are at the helm of our own lives despite what our childhood experience may be. Brilliant....more info
  • Her Last Death
    Not the best book I've read, In fact I thought it was awful. I'm sorry I really hated it, too much of her sex life and nothing to hold my attention....more info
  • Daphne Is No Angela
    I seldom pick a book after reading the blurbs offered by other writers. This time, largely based on Frank McCourt's praises, I did. However, Sonnenberg's memoir is no "Angela's Ashes." Both writers tell of childhoods wrought desperate by an irresponsible, addicted parent. (McCourt's often drunken father vs. Sonnenberg's sex-drugs-alcohol-crazed mother.) Although she grew up in affluence, Sonnenberg got the double-whammy of an abusive situation by having a critical, self-absorbed father compared to McCourt's Angela, who struggled to raise several children in dire poverty. Thus, Sonnenberg's story is a dreary, even frightening depiction of a parent's endless emotional, and yes, physical, brutality. I wanted Daphne dead by page 50. Daphne is the ber-Mommy Dearest, exposing her daughter to her drug use (even introducing the child to cocaine) and her serial liaisons with a host of men. There is no humor or humanity revealed in this youth managed by a narcissist, perhaps sociopathic parent. The family's wealth and social connections makes the situation even more horrible. The grandparents and father had the resources to intervene; yet, they appeared to accept Daphne's behavior as normal. Unlike most victims of abuse, Sonnenberg was not silent. In the same matter-of-fact way that she has written the story from an adult perspective, as a child, she revealed alarming incidents to her friends, her friends' parents, hospital staff and teachers. No one intervened. Without anyone's help, it appears that in the end, the writer has built a normal, happy family-life that is so very different and distant from her childhood. Never have I read a book that is so hard to evaluate. It's impossible to separate the merits of the story (I'm still trying to find one) from the quality of writing (so-so at best) because reading it was such an uncomfortable, voyeuristic experience. ...more info
  • Sorry I read it.
    I thought the book jumped all over the place, too much going on, and I hated all of the characters. I just finished it because I wanted to know if her mother does die....more info
  • Truly Disappointed
    I love to read memoirs...I have a controlling mother so of course I rushed out and bought this book. I even convinced a friend of mine to go out and buy the book. I was truly fascinated with the trials and tribulations of Susanna Sonnenberg's life. However, I can't describe my disappointment at the abrupt ending to this very detailed book. I felt like everything came to a screeching halt and I was left hanging. Have no expectations and it is a good read. ...more info
  • Interesting but questionable...
    I enjoyed the creative way the book was written but doubted some of the contents.
    ...more info
  • Almost Unbelievable
    It took me a couple of chapters before I really "got into" this book. The memoir was a very honest account of Ms. Sonnenberg's life growing up. It was difficult for the reader to relate to a mother who was both charming, and a total liar to her children, and everyone around her. What an accomplishment to rise above this and strive for independence , and a normal life. She certainly gets my vote for a real survivor! Very well written....more info
  • Not Very Exciting
    This book is actually quite boring, I thought it would pick up but it never really did....more info
  • Warning - There is Much That is Distasteful and Offensive Here
    Spoiler alert: There is so much in this book that some of you might find truly ugly, I'm going to have to write a warning review.

    I was going along with this story as best as I could manage with all the promiscuous and pointless sex, both from the mother and the daughter. It was shocking and ugly when the mother kept sleeping with the daughter's friends -- although later we find out this may or may not have happened at all.

    Then it got very distasteful when the daughter begins an affair with her high school teacher, right under his wife's nose. People get arrested for behavior like this, and the wife, when she finds out, seems to accept it. Women's lib takes a giant step backward.

    We have a brief interlude of Susanna sleeping with the same men as her sister, and then she finds her true love, and they get a puppy. Here's where I nearly put the book down for good. The puppy bites so they have it euthanized. Wow, that's brutal, but it gets worse. She gets pregnant, and after one day of pretending they're happy about it and one day of pretending they're going to abort it, the husband votes to abort it and she does it! Even though she doesn't want to! Women's lib takes another giant step backward. Now I am really disgusted. This woman has put down a puppy and a baby within a couple of chapters. Then just a few months later, the husband decides NOW he's ready to be a father. Meanwhile, Susanna gets a part-time job as a counselor at an abortion clinic, so we get to wallow in the misery and horror of that. (So if you believe in saving puppies and babies and not seducing teenagers, you're going to hate this book.)

    This is one damaging, nasty family. The mother is a liar, drug addict and nymphomaniac and carries on sexually in front of her two daughters like a latter day Britney Spears, and the daughters turn out no better, except we're supposed to like Susanna at the end when she mothers two little boys, keeps her marriage together, and lives on a budget in Montana. And who cares if she doesn't go visit her mother in the Bahamas after she has a car accident (and incidentally, doesn't die, so I don't understand the title. I wouldn't spend the money to visit her either.)

    Sonnenberg is a "writer," and I put that in quotes because she writes like someone trying a little too hard to be a writer. This trashy life is told in overly genteel, descriptive prose and although she realizes this kind of life is not normal, I have a hard time seeing her as a victim, and even now, you can't be sure she believes her own behavior was as ugly as her mother's. If all this was going on in a trailer park instead of luxury New York condos, it'd be just trash.

    It almost seems like a B movie, it's so over the top. Even the adulterous history teacher she had the affair with dies a horrible cancer death, like a 1950s movie retribution. I'm not going to be surprised when this does become a movie starring.....who? Too bad Shirley MacLaine is too old to play the mother now.

    My other frustration is both mother and the daughters are always judging men on whether they're good in bed, but not once is it explained what the definition of good in bed is. By what standard are they judging? And the three women are positive they are excellent in bed, so terrific, they can get anyone they want...and they do. And I'm not sure how they're doing this either except making themselves absolutely available for sex wherever whenever with whomever. What makes them good lovers? Sonnenberg doesn't share, so you don't even learn a trick or two from this ghastly story. And yes, we have a lesbian episode, too.

    So, in summary, if you have problems with any of these topics, don't read this book:
    Mothers and daughters sharing lovers
    High school teachers seducing their students
    Dogs with behavior problems being euthanized
    Abortion ...more info
  • This should be categorized as fiction
    I find so much of this book hard to believe, and so self-indulgent. If it was fiction, I would have enjoyed it much more. I have difficulty believing the author is telling the truth about 90% of the time. So many recent memoirs need fact checkers, and I guarantee this book would fail miserably. ...more info
  • A satisfying, not overly neat, conclusion
    Susanna Sonnenberg led a luxurious life as a child of privilege. When she was three years old, Bob Dylan lived next door. Susanna's parents divorced, and she moved to a deluxe New York hotel with mother Daphne and sister Penelope. Daphne drove a taxi, often bringing along her daughters in order to get bigger tips from fares. She began to date, was charismatic and popular, and had fabulous stories to tell, some of which were probably true.

    Daphne took six-year-old Susanna, along with Penelope, on a trip across the country. Along the way, she confided that she had stolen coats, sleeping bags and jewelry for their trip. She also told Susanna that she had leukemia and that she only had a few months to live. Susanna, horrified and sad, asked what would become of herself and Penelope after Daphne died. Daphne brushed off the question, telling her daughter that there was a good side to being terminal --- such as being able to charge anything on credit cards but never having to deal with the bills.

    When the trio returned to New York, Daphne informed Susanna that she didn't have leukemia after all; the hospital had mixed up patient charts. This just proved to be one of many of Daphne's uncountable, manipulative falsehoods. Meanwhile, Daphne seduces a married neighbor, Colin, but takes the girls on a vacation with Colin's best friend, Hugh.

    Although Susanna yearns to be closer to her father, Nat, he is emotionally distant with his daughters, suggesting they call him by his first name. Nat suffers the early stages of multiple sclerosis but manages to take the girls to cultural events. At one point, Susanna accompanies him to see Orson Welles films. He sternly tells his daughter not to speak until the movie has ended. As Nat watches the film, a man sits by Susanna, stroking her thigh. Afterward, when Susanna reveals to her father what happened, he simply tells her what to say next time: "Take your hands off me!" Nat considers the problem solved, but Susanna is sad that he doesn't act outraged or try to find her molester.

    As Susanna grows older, her mother's erratic behavior escalates. She abuses Susanna physically and emotionally, but these episodes are followed by interludes of irresistible magnetic charm. Yet Susanna grows wary and then warier as her mother seduces her boyfriend, abuses drugs and constantly lies. Susanna's own behavior, particularly with men, begins to mirror her mother's. If "as the twig is bent, so grows the tree" is a true saying, then how can Susanna ever learn to find honest love and live an honorable life?

    HER LAST DEATH is in many ways an unsettling read, partly because of the matter-of-fact tone in which Sonnenberg relates her mother's manipulation and abuses. It is also a page-turner, as the reader hopes for resolution, healing and resurrection for the author, who leaves us with a satisfying, not overly neat, conclusion.

    --- Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon [...]...more info
  • Disturbing
    I found this to be a little disturbing. I thought that is was well written and even a bit entertaining but still very disturbing. I found parts of the book to be almost unbearable and as I read through parts I was actually cringing. I did enjoy reading the book though....more info
  • Unhinged Parents Can Really Take It Out Of You
    Her Last Death is one of the best memoirs I've read in recent memory. It's not necessarily the most outrageous or exotic, but it manages to tread the line between description and emotion without veering too far into either one. Despite the fact that the book is about the relationship between (volatile) mother and daughter -- a relationship that is rife with complications under the best of circumstances -- it seems familiar, even in its most extreme.

    This is the story of growing up and living with someone who seems unable to fully grab onto reality with both hands and the toll it can exact on everyone involved....more info
  • not what i expected
    Wish I had read some reader reviews prior to my purchase. The subject interested me, the beginning chapters drew me in. However, the emphasis on descriptive sex was repetetive as well as disturbing. The repetition of these scenarios with unending details didn't have a purpose. Mid-way through the book, I considered throwing it out. I was content with the beginning and the ending.
    Unsatisfying overall. There are some good things here, but it got drowned out by alot of sex. Maybe that was the point. ...more info
  • What kind of daughter doesn't go to her mother's deathbed? This one. Cheer for her.
    What kind of daughter gets the most dreaded of all phone calls --- "Your mother's been in an accident, she's probably going to die" --- and doesn't drop everything to rush to mom's bedside?

    In this case, a smart one.

    Eternal vigilance, someone said, is the price you pay for not turning into your parents. And that's for garden-variety neurotic folk like you and me. For the kids of parents who should never have become parents --- the hard core druggies, the passionate narcissists, the spoiled rotten rich --- it's much harder. To hear the stories those kids tell is to wonder: Why didn't you self-destruct?

    Of these horror stories, Susanna Sonnenberg's is a stunner. "It's official --- the worst mother, ever," one reviewer wrote, and I don't disagree. Susanna's mother abuses drugs so casually she mixes them with tap water before injecting her thigh, encourages her single-digit-aged daughter to masturbate, seduces (or pretends to) her kid's boyfriends. That she shamelessly drops names and makes her sick self the center of every conversation --- in this family, that's not even a misdemeanor.

    The father's no peach, either. He becomes afflicted with multiple sclerosis, which buys him some slack later on, but he's already done his share of damage. Just one example: How do you justify taking your grade-school daughter to the movies and blaming her for doing nothing when a guy gropes her?

    I say it all the time: We become what we behold. It doesn't matter what our parents tell us, we imprint who and what they are. So what are the odds that Susanna's teen years are about school and extra-curricular activities and making sure she gets into a good college?

    Good guess.

    Readers who don't like to read about lovemaking-without-love should stay clear of this book, because there's a ton of it here. And not just the mother. Susanna gets off to what, in her family, is a slow start, but by 16 she's doing it with her English teacher, and in her early 20s, she sleeps with anyone who crosses her path.

    So, you ask, what's in this squalor for me?

    First, redemption. Many of us believe that people don't change. But the last half of "Her Last Death" chronicles Susanna Sonnenberg's path from talented loser to wife and mother of two. It's not a pretty story --- there's backsliding galore --- but it's credible, and moving, and surely an inspiration to anyone who's lost and thinks there's no way out of the hole.

    And then there's the writing. Susanna Sonnenberg puts you in the room and keeps you in the room. And something harder: She doesn't step back and judge. Was her mother bipolar? Reads like it. But Sonnenberg is too good a writer to turn her book into a tract about a woman who needed help and a family and culture that didn't know enough to provide it. And because she doesn't judge, we never catch a break. We're in it with her, begging her not to get engaged to the gambler who doesn't love her, willing her to break up with the chilly and controlling Brit, praying that she doesn't lose her first good relationship by confessing a meaningless lesbian affair.

    Funny thing. Susanna Sonnenberg's grandfather --- the source of the money that started the chain of indulgence and sickness --- was Benjamin Sonnenberg, who more or less invented public relations in America. He commanded huge fees for expert spin; you could say that deception was the family business. Generations later, his granddaughter has told her story as harsh truth. Good for her.
    ...more info
  • pretentious, voyeuristic and self-serving description of the consequences of parental abuse
    I cannot join the rhapsody of praise critics have lavished on Susanna Sonnenberg's memoir, "Her Last Death." Initially I felt pity for the author, but soon enough, compassion changed to contempt, engagement became indifference. Sonnenberg is the daughter of enormously wealthy and spiritually bankrupt parents, and her youth was spent in astonishing material affluence. As if to compensate for the surfeit of money surrounding Susanna, her parents proved to be incompetent, emotionally distant and cruel, especially her mother, who may well lay claim to have her own room in the Hall of Fame for liars. "Her Last Death" is a voyeuristic, embarrassing description of abuse; lacking universal lessons, the memoir abounds with grimy, disheartening revelations

    The premise of the memoir is an answer to a question: Why does a daughter refuse to fly from her Montana home to be at the bedside of her comatose mother? For the next 250 pages, Ms. Sonnenberg gives us, in excruciating detail, the reason for her decision. We learn that her mother, Daphne, is a pathological liar and a sex maniac. Disdainful of any personal boundaries that may separate her from her daughter, Daphne attempts to indoctrinate her young daughter into a world of hedonism where indiscriminate sexual encounters and casual use of addictive drugs abound..

    Given this endless catalogue of abuse, it is paradoxical that Sonnenberg never figures out how to stop her own self-absorption. Both mother and daughter are self-absorbed and limited people; their addiction to conspicuous consumption distances themselves not only from each other, but from the real world. Since the Sonnenberg family possesses extraordinary wealth, it is often difficult for readers to respond sympathetically to Susanna's admission admission that she has never had to wait in a line in her life until she has reached adulthood?

    The only value this overwrought memoir has is its painful realizations that abusive parents cripple their children's ability to become parents in their own right. Children with parents who have no boundaries become adults who doubt their own abilities to function as mothers or fathers. Susanna is panic stricken after giving birth to her first son, and her self-doubt rings true. Of all the pernicious influences Daphne had on Susanna, it is her residual mistrust of self that is most horrifying.

    An adult so dwarfed by wealth that she doesn't understand the mechanics of making a grilled cheese sandwich is a severely limited human being, a person with whom most readers cannot identify. Human anguish abounds in this tell-all memoir, but it is tinctured by an environment in which only the super-rich live. When the mother gloats over successfully shoplifting toiletries, I hoped that she would have been arrested, tried and convicted. Instead, the punishment the mother deserves has been reserved for Sonnenberg's readers....more info
  • Best Memoir in Years
    Susanna Sonnenberg has written as she remembered. Flurried memories as a child, torn and hormonal as a teen, and memories that fight for their lives as a young woman.

    Her story is wrenching and touching. I see many who claim to have read this in one sitting, which, to me, is a mistake. This book needs to be put down sometimes, to allow for the emotions and absorbtion of the incredible trauma and destiny in these words. Brave and absolute, the only adaptions are the changes of names from Susanna's brilliant life story.

    Dysfunction personified, this is a must-read. Period.

    And after reading the last sentence, this is a must-sit-with book. It deserves analysis and contemplation. There's a reason for her shifting writing styles, for the inclusion of new life characters without much...character. This is not a novel written lightly or without regard, and calls for investment from the reader, to ensure maximum delight....more info
  • not very good
    This book reminded me of Running With Scissors. Story of affluent dysfunctional childhood. Author tells of her mother's crazy lifestyle, drugs, sex, etc then she grows up to do the same. Her writing is mediocre at best. She keeps saying what a great writer she is (her father an author as well) but she's not. ...more info
  • Not Fun
    This book is down hill after the cover. I understand the basic premiss but it just doesn't pull it off . stay away from it...more info
  • Utter Rubbish
    I put this in the recycling bin after making it through two-thirds of the book. I could feel no sympathy for this woman when she was an adult. I could feel empathy for this little girl growing up with a soul-sucking, manipulative harpy for a mother, but when she turned into a soul-sucking, manipulative harpy herself --- eeesh. ...more info
  • bittersweet memories of my mother
    Her Last Death will remind many of us of our relationship with our mothers . While Susie s account of her mother
    portray a woman with a very strong personality subject to dramatic mood swings it is apparent that she and her mother are too alike to get on with each other as Susie grows up .
    This book chronicles how their similarities which used to bond them eventually drive them apart ....more info
  • "feel bad for me! my mom had problems!"
    so the author, at the end of her mother's life, makes a decision which now apparently haunts her and makes her feel guilty and selfish (rightfully so). in response, she writes a book detailing her mother's flaws and shortcomings and uses then as excuse for her bad decision and all the other ones she has made throughout her life time. detailing her own embarrassing behavior and sharing with the world every perceived mistake her family members made is indulgent but at the end there is no insight. in addition, the author complains repeatedly about being humiliated by things her mother did and said; how will the author's own children enjoy reading about their teenage mother sleeping with an adult teacher and then every man thereafter she met as well as some women? the apple did not fall to far from the tree....more info
  • Haunting portrait of hell
    It's been a long time since a personal memoir stayed with me for so long after I turned the last page.

    Sonnenberg is living proof that money and privilege don't insure happiness ... or even a glimpse at normalcy.

    Sonnenberg's grandfather was one of New York City's most successful publicity machines. Her father was somewhat of a literary star, especially during the 1960s. He grew up in one of the city's most recognizable mansions, The Fish House, at 19 Gramercy Park South. He had a fling with Susanna's mother when she was 15, got her pregnant and married her when she was 16.

    Sonnenberg's maternal roots are just as impressive, even though she changes their names, so we can't Google them for more background. Her maternal grandfather was a successful musician and wrote tunes for the movies. Her grandmother could have been Carole Lombard's twin. After the two divorced, 'Patsy,' as Sonneberg calls her, had houses in Barbados, London and Monte Carlo.

    Forget Joan Crawford and the wire hangers. 'Daphne' was addicted to drugs, sex and rock 'n rollers. If Sonnenberg has written the truth, it's a wonder Daphne survived her addiction to morphine, cocaine, Valium and percodan, not to mention her binge drinking. She was hospitalized for mental meltdowns on numerous occasions. She taught Sonnenberg how to give her drugs with needles. When Sonnenberg was 12, Daphne gave the child cocaine, telling her it was important for her to know the difference between quality cocaine and powder that had been "cut," or watered down. Daphne seduced her daughter's boyfriends. She had sex on Daphne's bed at boarding school. She punched her daughter in the stomach, a lot.

    And, there was really no one to protect the young, sensitive girl from the maniac that had given her life.

    How Sonnenberg ever found her way through the mania to a healthy relationship is a miracle. Now living in Missoula, Montana, with a loving husband and two young boys, she has written a glorious accounting of her time in hell. Her ability to tell her story with a precision-like insight is true testament to the triumph of the human spirit.

    Warning: This book is not for the faint of heart or the easily offended. Daphne's drug use is just the tip of the iceberg. Until her marriage, Sonnenberg used her sexuality to get what she wanted and to fill the gaping holes in her heart. She was promiscuous. It's a wonder she wasn't an alcoholic or druggie to boot.

    I suspect this book will garner a lot of attention come awards season and I'm sure Hollywood will scarf it up, even if the screenplay would have to be rated X.

    ...more info
  • Hard to finish...
    This was an awful book. The author is a narcissist who never manages to fully develop any thought. I actually felt sorry for the author's mother at the end because I disliked her so much. I was relieved when I finally finished the book... ...more info
  • Disappointing...
    * Spoilers*

    Like other reviewers, I was drawn to "Her Last Death" because it sounded like the kind of dysfunctional family memoir that keeps me turning pages. I appreciate anyone who can honestly look back at a horrendous childhood. It's so much healthier than glossing over appalling human behavior. Having read and loved "Running with Scissors" and "The Glass Castle" I was expecting something similar.

    Initially, I loved the book. The New York in the '70s setting, the outrageous Daphne (truly the mother from hell), the shocking revelations. Soon, though, this seemed like a story stretched very thin. The bulk of the book is one sexual exploit after another, each one slightly more shocking than the last. Several, such as a seduction of brothers and of an orthodox rabbi, seemed fabricated. By the time Susanna was a faux lesbian in Missoula, I'd had enough.

    As if sensing the reader's boredom, the author ends the tedious sexual exploits and shifts into her own struggles with motherhood. The parallels are worth plumbing... is parenting so inherantly difficult that Susanna can forgive her own mother for her mistakes? This section (making up roughly the last 70 pages) has some bite to it. However, Sonnenberg can't resist a cheap ending, which gives a false sense that she has learned from her mother's mistakes and has exchanged her mother's life of decadence for traditional domestic bliss. I'm am skeptical that she has really overcome the values she was raised with....more info
  • Complete Self Absorption
    I was pretty disappointed by this book. It's not that the writing is bad, actually it's technically quite good, it is the story that I had no interest in whatsoever. It's interesting to me that the author is so completely opposed to her mother, but gives her father a free pass for almost the same type of behavior. In addition, I got very tired of reading about this spoiled, narcistic, self-absorbed, morally bereft, snob. How she found a nice husband to marry her is beyond me....more info
  • Warning Spoiler!
    This does contain spoilers, so if you haven't read it yet and you are definitely going to stop now!

    I read this hoping for another Glass Castle. I really did enjoy it, it kept me intrigued almost to the end. BUT the author is so self absorbed, she makes herself out to be a victim turned sex addict all the while patting herself on the back. Her teacher says she is the sexiest woman he's ever seen, basically every man she meets has never had better. The end was really disappointing, I kept thinking of her poor kids if they ever read this! She makes her marriage seem fake, talks freely of an abortion, as well as her frustration and dislike for her oldest son. Then she speaks of the son fondly for the next couple of chapters, but the other son was referred to as 'Daniel's baby brother'
    She thinks marijuana is awful, but cocaine is fine, she's taught how to masturbate at 8 and even gets her own Penthouse magazines. It wasn't Glass House but I still recommend it....more info
  • "My Mother, Myself"???
    As I read this book, I couldn't help but remember the book from the 70's, "My Mother, Myself". This daughter, in this reader's opinion, becomes what she seemingly most abhors, her mother. By recreating for the reader, her numerous sexual exploits and manipulative behavior of those around her, she begins to sound more and more like her mother. She does not seem particularly interested in redemption or self-realization and I found the book troubling for this reason. I kept asking myself why a mother of two would put all these details into her book - won't her children grow up and be subjected to the same salicious details of her life as she was to her mother's life? I am pretty shocked that her husband was willing to go along with this book's publication. ...more info
  • Something lacking
    Having had a wife who suffered sexual abuse from a stepfather as child, I could not stop reading this book from the first chapter. It hit too close to home. The author's prose is crisp, sharp, and vivid, but therein may lie the rub. I could never quite get a feel for how this insane mother truly affected her emotions and world view. She writes almost in a distant and third person non-emotional state, as if recording this had happened to another person. Sure, she describes how her mother's pathological behavior affected her relationships with lovers and children, but for me it rang hollow. I still could not quite feel or figure how, or who, Susie is, or was. I kept reading, fully engrossed, unable to stop, like watching a car or train wreck.

    Finally, we are still left to wonder where or when her mother really does die, so the title is a bit misleading, but does work to draw one into the web of dysfunctional childhoods. For me, I would have liked a little more meat and substance....more info
    I was really looking forward to reading this book. BIG LET DOWN! If you're looking for a book on narcissism then here it is. Predictible poor me plot, except this woman came from privledge. Following in her mother's footsteps she becomes a sex addict. Lives a life of privledge and great wealth and travel. Completely self indulgent she tires of her sexed up life and marries some guy in Montana. Then she kills her first unborn child because her husband "wasn't ready", only to be ready 8 mos later and ends up working in an abortion clinic. If you can get past the extreme self absorbtion then go for it. Personally, it was a huge let down. ...more info
  • Haunting
    I've thought about this book for days since I finished it. It's not happy or pleasant. It's disturbing, sort of like watching a car accident about to happen; you can't turn your head and look away.

    Sonnenberg's mother was divorced, rich New York socialite who was obviously manic. She lied pathologically, was addicted to Demerol, snorted mountains of cocaine, and was obsessed with sex. She introduced Susanna to cocaine at 12, and gave her a warped understanding of sex.

    The book has lots and lots of sex in it, for which some Amazon reviewers have criticized it. But there's nothing erotic about it, and I don't think she intended it to be sensationalist. Because her mother was such a liar, Susanna becomes brutally honest; honest to a fault, and she's just explaining what happened. For a time she could only relate to other people through sex, and her self worth was defined by sex.

    Susanna, who in psychobabble terms was codependent, eventually starts to understand what a horror her mother is and how it has affected her. She works hard to get past those demons. She doesn't do the victim thing, and there's no epiphany or grand redemption, just a slow understanding of what's important in life as she gets older.

    I listened to the audio CD of this book. It is read by the author. She writes beautifully, but having her read it really adds to it. And there's certainly never a dull moment.

    As a memoir of a tragic youth, I thought this vastly better than Wall's The Glass Castle, which I did not find credible.
    ...more info
  • Hard to put down
    I read and read and when I wasn't reading I was thinking about when I could continue reading. I really admire Susanna for stating her true feelings. She doesn't come across as being a victim; her writing style comes across as a matter of fact.
    She tells about her dysfunctional relationship with her mother and father and their many relationships after the divorce. She also tells about her much needed sexual attention from men. Over all I think it's one of the better memoirs that I've read.
    ...more info
  • The spirit of truth
    Even though Sonnenberg has obscured so many facts and is so careful to protect identities that I think it has really inhibited some essential elements, the spirit of truth is there. I say this as someone who has a lived a version of her life, child of a brilliant but disturbed bipolar parent. In early life the lay of the land and the nature of reality is heavily influenced by your caretakers. If they are insane or addicted, the experience of feeling one's way around the 'normal' world can be unsettling to say the least. The author really nails those sensations when she is in more healthy 'normal' settings of friends and school. The ambivalence of deeply loving someone who harms you is also conveyed beautifully, in my opinion. Emotions aren't black and white, but the damage these disturbed parents wreak on their offspring is very real and lasting. I found the book spellbinding, could ruefully relate to much of it, and am dying to see pictures of the mother depicted here. I have found out she is still living, along with some of the other family members. If you too had a less than Leave it to Beaver upbringing, particularly if you are a child of parents in perpetual adolescence, you will appreciate the book. ...more info
  • Don't Waste Your Time
    This book was published because of the authors last name and her connection to the literary world. The characters are underdeveloped and the writing is largely disjointed. We leap from the hustle and bustle of NYC to quickly meeting future husband and moving to Montana to have a Lesbian affair and pole vault into marraige with the guy after a literary retreat. Just too many hiccups. There are freqeunt gaps and what feels like years of missing information summed up by listing several daliances grocery style. I find the memoir more like an expose from a tabloid rag rather then a piece of literary excellence. ...more info
  • Her last death-memoir
    This book illustrates the hope and change that can come out of tragedy.
    A mother raising daughters in a chaotic world, whether because of addiction or mental illness, and near-sociopathic self-involvement would crush most children. Sonnenburg uses her life experience with an emotionally vacant mother to resurrect herself and create a new life for herself and for her children.

    Sonnenburg's ability to create her own life, and finally accept her mother's inability to 'be there', reminds me of Alice Miller's words; "...for the human soul is virtually indestructible and its ability to rise from the ashes remains as long as the body draws breath."

    This author shows courage in finding her own adult life out of harsh experiences. When family members are destructive, it is okay to leave them, in my view.
    Then healing can happen.

    The book is well put together. Very readable and an inspiration to anyone who has destructive parents (OR siblings) in their lives.

    Worth reading ! ...more info
  • Memoir at its best
    In HER LAST DEATH, Susanna Sonnenberg achieves what I believe the very best memoirs can accomplish. She paints a vivid, living picture, not just of a life but of her relationship with her manic but unbalanced mother, and she does so with prejudice and personal perspective. Memoir is not autobiography; at its very best, the genre tells us not the facts and objective observation of the events. Memoir takes us into the heart of the author's experience, and it is its very subjectivity that gives it power. HER LAST DEATH brings the reader into Sonnenberg's internal world, a tumultuous place where both a mother's love and her sanity are always in question.

    Sonnenberg doesn't flinch from the light when it comes to examining her own stumbles and weaknesses, and when an understanding of her troubled mother's psyche eludes her, as it often does, the author doesn't engage in conjecture or armchair psychoanalysis. Instead, she allows us to experience this inexplicable world with her, and in the end, we are left not so much with a sense of who her mysterious mother might have been, but rather whom the author has ultimately become.

    In the course of facing a difficult past and its ramifications for her future, Susanna Sonnenberg has shown herself to be an extremely talented writer, and I eagerly await more from her....more info
  • Freak Show
    I'm not really sure why a publisher felt that this book would make compelling reading. If this sordid tale had to be told, it seemed much better suited to a long feature in Cosmo or another one of those titillating women's magazines that pretends to contain serious journalism.

    This memoir was just nasty, populated by the biggest collection of freaks I've recently seen on the printed page. This so called mother was insane and abusive and I cannot understand why she was permitted to keep custody of these girls.

    And I'm not sure why the author felt she had to throw her life open to the world. It was embarrassing to read her accounts of masturbation, indiscriminate sexual behavior, and her attempts to justify one of the most selfish abortions I've ever heard of.

    The only positive thing I can say is that I absolutely understand her refusal to fly all those miles to say goodbye to that waste of an egg donor who was lucky to live as long as she did. I wouldn't have crossed the street to say anything to her. But this book was really a waste of time and left me feeling like I was coated with a thin layer of slime after reading it. ...more info
  • Compelling and Fascinating
    I found this book to be compelling and fascinating. Compelling because of the strength and seeming veracity of the narrative - and fascinating for its even-handed dissection of the damaging narcissism of the author's mother, which plagues and dominates her childhood. We root for Susana, weep with her and utlimately exult in her fragile, imperfect liberation....more info
  • strange indeed
    I found this book to be just too much information. All I could think of the last half of the book was that this woman has sons. Not a book I'd want my sons to read about their mother. I found her to be full of self pity and she never made the characters real. Why was the mother as she was? What about her past? Was she a a compulsive liar or was some of the name dropping true? Very confusing. I love memoirs and was very disappointed in this one. Highly recommend Glass Castle....more info
  • What a mother!!??
    This is one of the best memoirs I have ever read both for its shockingly frank portrayal of a mother on drugs, and for its writing which is exceptional for any genre. The beginning is just a tad slow but once the story takes off, boy does it ever! I found this memoir hard to put down and repeatedly found myself muttering, "I can't believe this mother." Outstanding. ...more info
  • Awful Human Garbage - Spoilers
    It is very rare that I will take the time to write a review on a book. In this case, however, I felt compelled to do so. I found the author to be one of the least sympathetic protagonists that I have ever read. The only possible joy that I have is that when she closes her eyes at night, she is tormented and agonizes over her miserable lie of a life. Not only does she sleep with just about everyone (ORTHODOX RABBI), she murders life with little regard to consequence. She has an abortion, kills her puppy, and can't be bothered to visit her dying mother or her dying first love. She then whines how maybe it wasn't the Queen Mary's final voyage that brought her to America.. it was another ocean liner that sailed many more times. WHO CARES. Her mother lied a lot and had a drug problem. She was promiscuous and may or may not have slept with her friends. Does this give any reason to live a life so vapid and self pitying? Oh.. I feel really bad for you. You travelled the globe and never had to want for money.. lived in mansions in Barbados and NYC.. and were given every possible leg up because of legacy and nothing that you earned for yourself. Boo hoo. I am certain that the only reason this pile of garbage was even published was that her last name was used to guarantee a contract.. maybe a favor to one of her deceased relatives. I've never seen an example of someone flying higher on borrowed wings, and then complaining the entire time about how bad she had it. My only hope is that her children read this book and decide to cut her out of their life when they get old enough to realize how selfish, self-pitying, and self absorbed she is. The only reason that I gave this book 2 stars is that it kept me awake with anger and compelled me to write a review of it. If you dislike people with a sense of entitlement, arrogance, and pity, avoid this book. ...more info
  • Mediocre at Best
    Like many other readers, I never found the mother that atrocious. I mean, sure, she did have some bizarre and harmful behavior. However, I don't see her as the ravaging beast that Sonnenberg describes her as. She was a coke addict which caused her to be in the hospital a lot and sometimes to go into hysterical fits. While this would definitely be scary, Sonnenberg doesn't describe her mother's frequent hospital visits as frightening but more as expected inconveniences. She definitely wasn't physically abused considering most parents give some form of minimal corporal punishment. The verbal abuse was certainly there but not to the point of traumatizing Sonnenberg, more to the point of making it difficult for her to get along with her mother. Although Sonnenberg's mother has an interesting personality as a histrionic and her overly sexual behavior, I really don't believe that her story was interesting enough to warrant an entire memoir. In fact, at times, I felt Sonnenberg's story ( her affair with the English teacher) was more interesting than her mother's and that she used her own story to fill in gaps in which nothing significant happened with her mother....more info
  • Having money takes away the sting
    This was a difficult book to read. I am not saying its was a bad book it kept interest pretty much throughout. I am not saying this woman was not abused, in some ways yes, but I do not think it warrented a book about it.

    the majority of the time the author basked in money, expensive clothes, vactions abroad, and money at her disposal. I am not saying money made it alright, it did not but it takes the sting out of it and there were times when her Mother was kind and decent and cared, she had emotional problems but throughout I never doubted she loved her children very much and gave them pretty much the best money could buy, and yes money does help.

    My good friend was a abused beaten child and it was much much more horrific than this sugar-coated book. Her father beat her black and blue with the belt and her three younger siblings, he did NOT drink it was his real true personna he did this cold sober. He locked the kids in closests for hours, even one time in the trunk of a car, he would take them to a dark deserted field and tell them to "get out" because they had done something bad that day {normal kids antic's nothing terrible} he would call them horrible names, chase them around hitting them swearing and worst of all he would, and I will descibe this slowly, make the four kids kneel on their knees on hardwood floor with their arms extended out for an hour, if they lowered there arms they would get backhanded in the face! Back in the 1970's noone cared, it was like "disipline your children as you see fit" neighbors would see the children getting chased around the front yard and never called the police, they were on their own. The mother tried to protect, he never hit her, but failed he was so mean nasty rotten evil noone could stop him, he never sexually abused them, thank God, thats one good thing, but the emotional physical and mental abuse have hurt these kids throughout life, damaged jobs and relationships and has brought on panic attacks, depression and anxiety, this man was truly evil, he is still alive, the mother died young, and is STILL at it, never missing the opportunity to verbally abuse and yell, they avoid him all they can and hate him to this day.

    They did NOT have money growing up, lower middle-class, no nice clothes, no expensive vacations, no wonderful caring grandparents who intervened and helped, etc.... they were abused poor and it was terrible, hellish.

    My point is other people have had it way harder than this author, she had money and lots of it and yes it takes away the sting, not all together I agree, but it made it easier, just to "fly away to france" or the bahamas when things got bad with the mother and I felt she never actually beat the kids bloody, they survived and they did it rich and had other options. The family I described had no other options, poor and beatup is a horrible childhood, and the fact the father did this cold-sober and did not take drugs makes it worse, it was real, not alcholism related and there were not "presents and disney world vactions" to take away the sting, just more abuse and hatred and to this day it continues, through they are adult and can stay away, I pray one day these children can heal and recover, but his hatred lives on as he lives on at age 70.

    NO abuse is good and I am not saying this author had it great because she was so rich, I am saying it took away some of the sting and allowed them more options to leave. No matter how you look at it, money DOES help in everyway, its alot better to have money than not and in this case it helped. I am sorry the author suffered through I don't feel she suffered that badly, and as you read above others suffer SO much more. It turned out good for her good husband, beautiful baby, trust fund, money etc.. she will survive. Perhaps my friend should write a book about her hellish childhood and make lots of money like the author, at least her cries would be serious. The book is good, a good read, but life was not as awful as it seemed for her. Perhaps abused poor children should NOT read it, it makes their situations so much worse being poor....more info
  • Not your typical "poor little rich girl" memoir
    OK, Susan Sonnenberg grew up rich. No getting around it. But while a wealthy upbringing usually colors a memoir in a distinctively self-pitying shade (usually through the author trying to hide it), this memoir actually acknowledges that while the money made her life comfortable, it didn't mean her life was free of torment.

    What is perhaps most striking about the eloquently expressed reflections and memories here is how Sonnenberg can write about what has lacks a definable quality...it isn't quite sexual abuse, though sexually inappropriate; it isn't quite forced drug addiction, but availability of drugs makes a terrible living environment; and what do you call it when your mother teaches you that sex is the key to everything but then tries to protect you from the men that want to have sex with you?

    The biggest surprise as I read was how much the author seemed to have in common with the author of Sickened, whose mother suffered from Munchausen's by proxy. The two women are worlds apart, and yet suffer for their mothers' sins. They are also both exquisitely crafted memoirs, both trying to make sense of strange childhoods, and trying to find who they are as adults separate from their mothers....more info
  • Whoa is me and Whiner's memoir

    I was excitded to read this book after reading some positive reviews liken it to a truly excellent memoir, The Glass Castle.

    I found the authors tone both pitiful and annoying. The characters even the mother and daughter where both one dimensional and under developed.

    You never got a sense of why anyone was acting the way they were and the author failed to make it clear whether the mother was a pathological liar or telling the truth and had a grand life.

    I was very dissapointed in this book and what the author to pull herself together and stop sniveling.

    Its also depressing that she only finally found happiness by being with a man.

    I mean does she not see the irony?

    Dont buy this but check out the glass castle if you want to read about a truly horribel childhood and a woman who manages to make it on her own anyhow. ...more info
  • Not what I expected..
    addiction, dysfunction.. etc.. This wasn't what I had hoped for.. but she is a good author... I would probably check her out in the future.. Not my fav .. just okay

    ...more info
  • Should make a good movie.
    I really enjoyed this book. I am not going to go into details about the story. I am sure you have already read what it is about. It is a fast read. I read the whole book in just a few days. As I was reading it, I kept thinking it will make a really good movie....more info
  • Susanna's the Real Deal
    I met Susanna when I took a writing workshop from her in Montana. She's one of the most kind and generous women I have had the pleasure of meeting. I immediately bought her book and read it through in just a couple of days, which means I could not put it down. Many times people who write memoirs do so because they look back on a life that was very unusual and understand how it helped shape their thinking and decision making, sometimes to their own undoing. They know they have changed and wonder if their experience may help someone else. People who read memoirs are curious, sometimes because they have gone through similar experiences and sometimes because they haven't. Unfortunately, there are those in the latter category who read a memoir and than pass judgment on what they've read. They judge the writer.

    This makes me wonder. What would a memoir be if the writer decided to write about only the things they thought would not offend, or the mistakes they think will be the easiest to stomach. That would be the opposite of what happened in James Frey's book, "A Million Little Pieces." He exaggerated some of his history, but his book still touched many lives and because of that, has value. Susanna has amazing courage and gave me inspiration to be able to tell my own story without the fear of judgment which would be sure to come. Her life is amazing and the fact that she is successful in career, marriage, and motherhood at such a young age after all she went through is truly remarkable to this reader....more info
  • Utter Rubbish
    I put this in the recycling bin after making it through two-thirds of the book. I could feel no sympathy for this woman when she was an adult. I could feel empathy for this little girl growing up with a soul-sucking, manipulative harpy for a mother, but when she turned into a soul-sucking, manipulative harpy herself --- eeesh. ...more info


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