Twist: A Memoir By Adele Bertei, 250 pgs.

Mar 10, 2023

Adele Bertei was musically involved with Cleveland cult legend Peter Laughner (Rocket From The Tombs, Pere Ubu), played in the first incarnation of no wave frontrunners James Chance And The Contortions, acted as a personal assistant to Brian Eno in New York, put together the first all-woman, proudly all-queer band, The Bloods, and has been a multidisciplinary artist and writer for decades. I mention all of this to present Ms. Bertei’s bona fides for Razorcake’s readership in case, like me, the previous decade and a half’s inundation of memoirs has left you nonplussed with being presented with yet another one. But, truth be told, none of that is in this book at all. Bertei has chosen (wisely, it turns out) to write a book solely focused on her life growing up in Cleveland and ending, presumably, where all of those experiences I led off with are waiting patiently to take place.

To say that Bertei had a difficult childhood doesn’t get close to the truth of it. Starting off with a mother dealing with paranoid schizophrenia, a father who is either absent, abusive, or spying on them, and two traumatized little brothers to take care of, Adele was dealt an incredibly difficult hand. Until it gets much worse. And then worse again. And so on. Her teen years are marked by revolving door institutions, foster families, and homelessness, with varying degrees of abuse at every turn. Memoirs in this vein often suffer from a child protagonist who actually feels like an adult looking back through a child’s eyes with unrealistic wisdom gained. Bertei does an excellent job of avoiding this by giving her book’s alter ego, Maddie Twist, a fully realized child’s thoughts and feelings of wonder—and most heartbreakingly—her disbelief that this could actually be happening to her. Early on, a very young Twist looks at the stars and decides everything will be alright because there can only be so many bad things that can happen to you. It’s such perfect kid logic, and cut me right to the quick.

One of this memoir’s greatest strengths, and a reason I plan on ordering multiple copies to give as gifts, is Bertei’s sureness in her queer identity from a young age. Even as everything else in her life seems largely unknowable, the solace she takes in her absolute belief in who she is, fundamentally, as a person is so inspiring and invigorating, even while witnessing her try and navigate situations no child should ever have to consider. I know the common adage in reviewing is to balance the roses and thorns, but I’m genuinely struggling to come up with something I didn’t like about this book. My hope is that she’s currently working on volume two, because this is a literary voice I need more of in my life. –Justin Bookworm (ZE Books of Houston, TX, 3262 Westheimer Road #467, Houston, TX 77098, zebooks.com)

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