On the Ledge is a debut memoir from Amy Turner, a former practicing attorney and seventh-grade social studies teacher. Its prologue prepares the reader for the memoir’s impetus—in 1957, her father attempted suicide by threatening to leap from a hotel window near the Yale campus, an event that was captured and frozen, both in the narrator’s mind and in national newspaper articles and photographs. Though her father is coaxed from the ledge by a passing priest, his lifelong battle with mental illness, and its impact on four children and a wife barely coping with her own demons, will reverberate throughout the author’s life.
Fifty-five years after that cold 1957 morning, the author is hit by a truck in a crosswalk after picking up the dry cleaning The accident results in significant cerebral injuries. In adjusting to her diminished ability to process information, she is drawn back to distant memories of her father on that hotel window ledge and of a childhood home characterized by secrets, foreboding silence, and parents who lacked the time and emotional bandwidth for their children. She begins a search for understanding, for some semblance of peace, and for a path forward, for herself and those she loves, including her father.
“As a child, I loved our family’s house at 35 Valley Road. . . .But despite out house’s considerable size, its playful character was overshadowed by my parents’ emotional states. The vibrations of my mother’s anger and the damp of my father’s depressions could permeate its every corner and consume me as well. Although I didn’t hold the house responsible, at times I would sense its hidden dangers, those invisible trapdoors through which my parents might suddenly, at any time, disappear.”
Told in alternating sections of backstory recalling critical scenes from childhood and adolescence, and scenes moving forward from the narrator’s traumatic brain injury, the author skillfully weaves the memoir’s threads together, including learning the “truth” of that 1957 day and its aftermath, giving up the law and following her own passion into teaching, and finding peace in herself and the life and relationships she treasures.
The prose style is fluid and engaging, and while the topic is a serious one, On the Ledge is sprinkled with enough humorous notes that it’s never overwhelmingly dark. The narrative draws you in and creates that “need to know” tension. Memoir aficionados, as well as readers interested in stories of families coping with mental illness and alcoholism, will find On the Ledge of interest, as will those contemplating a mid-life career change or biting the bullet and hauling long-held family secrets out of the closet and into the light of day. On the Ledge is a refreshing, engaging, entertaining debut with a thread of hope woven throughout that echoes at the end.