American / Book Reviews / nonfiction / The Latest

A Review of Peg Conway’s Memoir “The Art of Reassembly”: grief will always linger

Picture of a Samsung phone screen showing an app to listen to audiobooks. The Art of Reassembly: a memoir of early mother loss and aftergrief by Peg Conway is on the title.

Note: This audiobook was provided by Books Forward for review purposes. Thank you to the team at Books Forward and the author for sharing their stories with me. This review is my own opinion, and while I was gifted the book to review, I was not paid for anything that I have written here.

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. I might make a small commission if you purchase something through one of these links. This helps me fund my blog and keep it free for everyone.

The loss of a parent is always significant. It changes people. Depending on when that loss occurs means different changes and different kinds of grief, but the heartbreak is universal. There is something about reading and hearing stories from fellow people who have lost a parent that just creates this instant connection. I think somehow we just get it. Even if the loss or the circumstances around that loss are completely different, there is this knowing that comes with that kind of grief. We are, after all, part of a pretty awful club – the dead parent/s club.

With all that said, memoirs about parent loss shouldn’t just be reserved for those of us who are card-caring members of the aforementioned club. On the contrary, it is often people who still have their parents, people who haven’t experienced this kind of tragic loss, who need these memoirs most. I often find people who have experienced catastrophic grief already ‘get it’. So whether your own journey with grief and loss has brought you here, or perhaps you stumbled on this review for different reasons – I hope that you can feel seen, heard, and understood as you hold onto your grief.

Peg Conway’s memoir is written about her own experiences dealing with what I would call the unprocessed grief of losing her mother when she was 7 years old. I think this kind of deferred or unprocessed grief is pretty common. The idea of deferred or unprocessed grief sometimes called delayed grief, essentially means that there are aspects of the grieving process that the person hasn’t yet engaged with for whatever reason. These feelings or emotions can come up later in life, meaning 6 months later to 20 years later. I know I experienced it after my father died. I think it comes from our general lack of understanding about grief and how to support people who are grieving. We are, generally, terrible at supporting people grieving despite it happening to every single one of us.

Conway’s grief is dislocated by the fact that her father remarries and Conway’s step-mother adopts her. This essentially erases Conway’s birth mother. The pain of losing her mother to cancer is one thing, and the pain of losing her mother through the slow and methodical effacing of her mother is another kind of loss. And while Conway juggles both of these losses, the latter is what she explores throughout her memoir.

Parents often treat children like they are incapable of understanding things because they don’t have the language to repeat it back to adults. However, children understand a lot. This is evidenced by the articulate prose and narrative devices Conway uses throughout her memoir. Her mother is removed from her life, and she is replaced by a different woman who is clearly insecure about Conway’s birth mother. And this insecurity leads to a lot of heartbreak for the author and her siblings.

Towards the end of the memoir, Conway talks about meeting with a psychologist who talks her through her grief around the loss of her mother. She asks Peg if she thinks her step-mother deliberately meant to hurt her when she slowly removed all traces of her mother. This bugged me a little because while I do think intentions are important to discuss, they detract from the real issue at hand. Whether Ag meant to hurt her stepchildren or not is beside the point. She did hurt them, and if you cannot acknowledge that without putting qualifiers like ‘unintentional’ or ‘premeditated’ before that pain, then you miss the point. Peg has every right to feel hurt by her step-mother’s actions. The way I look at it is this – if you are hit by a car, and you break your leg, does your medical treatment change depending on if the driver accidentally hit you or deliberately hit you with their car?

Overall I enjoyed Conway’s memoir, but I did wonder at times if there was a lot of psychology-lingo and concepts that weren’t explained well enough for someone approaching this who hasn’t been to therapy. I do believe that this book will help anyone who has lost someone – not just people who lost a mother. There were many times when I saw myself in Conway’s writing.

Buy your copy from Book Depository here.

Tell me your favourite memoirs about grief or loss. As always, share the reading love.