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If Only You People Could Follow Directions is a spellbinding debut by Jessica Hendry Nelson In linked autobiographical essays Nelson has reimagined the memoir with her thoroughly original voice fearless writing and hypnotic storytelling At its center the book is the story of three people Nelson’s mother Susan her brother Eric and Jessica herself These three characters are deeply bound to one another not just by the usual ties of blood and family but also by a mother's drive to keep her children safe in the midst of chaos The book begins with Nelson’s childhood in the suburbs of Philadelphia and chronicles her father's addiction and death her brother's battle with drugs and mental illness her own efforts to find and maintain stability and her mother's exuisite power grief and self destruction in the face of such a complicated family dynamic Each chapter in the book contends with a different relationship—friends lovers and strangers are all play—but at its heart the book is about family the ties that bind and enrich and betray us and how one young woman sought to survive and rise above her surroundings

10 thoughts on “If Only You People Could Follow Directions

  1. says:

    It's hard to want to pick up memoirs these days Many of them are so self centered in the most literal of senses you feel like you're a vaguely unwanted guest at someone's wild and crazy party that somehow the horrible things that have happened to these writers make them special—and you couldn't possibly be that specialNelson's book on the other hand is a hard steady and extraordinarily beautiful look outward at her family at the psychology of addiction and by means of subtle reflection her own struggle being the daughter and sister of addicts The miracle of this book though is that I kept seeing illuminating flashes of myself that Nelson understands her craft so well she knows how to include the reader as a part of her story She creates this effect through humor understanding when to offer a funny aside or self deprecating comment to break the tension her fine tuned sense of when to shoot straight and when to allow lyricism to communicate meaning in her prose and most of all her honesty—about her fears about her guilt and her desire to find peace for herselfAlso the structural resonance of the book a memoir told in essays allows the reader a space to breathe contemplate the fragments and join them together with his or her own glue It's a brilliant way of shaping a memoir because it allows room for the reader to connect and it's only through that connection that you can be deeply moved by any type of literatureI recommend If Only You People to anyone who wants to read a fine example of the form and find themselves in someone else's story

  2. says:

    If Only You People Could Follow Directions A Memoir by Jessica Hendry Nelson is no ordinary memoir It is a collection of linked autobiographical essays put together to form an amazing story the like of which I have never read before It is about addictions mental illness death incarcerations and financial instability It is the story of a dysfunctional family a story of hope as much as it is a story of redemptionJessica Hendry Nelson is a smart and sharp writer When you are not taken in by the story you’ll still find yourself browsing through the pages egged on by her fine writing and sheer brilliance It is unputdownableWhatever your verdict may be about this book it is both real and surreal In the midst of a seemingly insurmountable mountain of ruins the author finds hope Don’t be bogged down and overwhelmed by your problems – survival is still possible If Only You People Could Follow Directions Counterpoint is one of those rare books which do not come along so often I strongly recommend it

  3. says:

    This book is a disjointed memoir of Jessica Hendry Nelson chronicling the battles with mental illness drug addiction and alcohol addiction running in her family Each chapter is sort of an individual essay relating a story of a single relationship her life be it her mother brother father friend or boyfriend It's an interesting concept for writing a memoir in the form of linked stories but it didn't play out very well for me I think my major issue was the fact that the stories are not in any kind of chronological order which makes it unnecessarily difficult to piece together how the separate stories relate to each other In a book that is already not designed to tell a through story the mixing up the timeline seemed like a poor choice I think the book suffered from trying to be overly creative

  4. says:

    Really enjoyed this Compulsively read on a flight from Vermont straight through A group of essays the first one the prologue a declarative overview of the difficult young life of a girl with addiction running through her family like an earthuake fault What impressed me the most was the brutal unregenerate gaze here the inability to soften to look away to fake up a happy ending a sweet 'lesson' No lesson here no excuses no apologies for the failures of self or of others What is courage in memoir writing? The revelations of how it really was and one's own part in it It's the unwillingness to look away Her relationship with a difficult grandmother in 'The Dollhouse' particularly complexHere's a bit on memory These memories are however far from fixed They shift with the changing tides of the water on our brains the bubious salt of mere matter A cold Northeast wind perhaps Who can say for sure? Each remembering is different such successive dredging unreliable than the last Our brains recreate as a function of self defense or self sabotage maybe a slightly larger hand a slightly longer hug a steeper walk a harder ache a toothier smile a smaller childSuch beautiful writing just lines likeShe falls and the taste of gray is acrid like the dew on a familiar metal fenceHe looks through a window and watches the moon undress in the front yard

  5. says:

    Uneven There were times when the writing grew tiring and other times when it painted incredible scenes and feelings The jumping around from past to present was sometimes difficult to follow

  6. says:

    There are some good passages of writing in this book I might have liked it better except1 It's all too easy to use non linear time to enhance the artiness of your story telling It would be a much challenging writing assignment to tell the story in as compelling a fashion following linear time moving forward2 It's structure is too much like the weekly writing assignments in a creative writing classIt does do a good job of describing what addiction to alcohol and or drugs is all about And it makes one speculate on the bonding that occurs even within very dysfunctional families But that's not enough for a major literary work But if JHN ever wrote a novel I'd probably read it

  7. says:

    Jumbled hard to follow one of the worst books I have picked up in a long time It is unusual for me to NOT finish a book but I couldn't slog my way through this one

  8. says:

    This review originally published in Looking For a Good Book Rated 35 of 5What do you write about a book that is very well written the author conveys her message very well with compelling imagery and succinct language but which is so depressing that I never want to read anything else by this author ever again?Jessica Hendry Nelson has had a pretty tough life This collection of memoir essays If Only You People Could Follow Directions gives us a raw look at what Nelson has toughed out to become the person she is today But Nelson isn't looking for sympathy not that I can tell she's simply being frank with the readerThose of us who didn't have such a raw up bringing understand intellectually that there are people like this in the world but experiencing it through the eyes of someone who lived it definitely makes me uncomfortable And of course that is perhaps the point Nelson is trying to get us to follow directions to see the bigger pictureThe book opens with A Letter to Eric Jessica's brother who will play a major role in most of the book The letter recalls the two of them visiting their father in one of his many addiction recovery hospitals and then visiting him at another and then another Her entire memory of her father appears to be visiting himEric takes up where her father leaves off and despite a very close relationship it is full of struggles She writes of some of their early times togetherI have a very early memory of choking my brother until he turned blue He couldn't have been than two years old Choking was one of my favorite methods of assault my scrawny brother writhing as I held him on the ground my knees pressed deep into his stomach I wasn't satisfied until he criedBut despite the fighting the two are incredibly closein the way that only two siblings who have to face a cruel world together can be Drugs and alcohol are a shared vice though Eric's will get him into trouble not unlike his father while Jessica appears to have hidden it wellNelson also writes of her sexual encounters thirteen and a friend who was having sex with a boyfriend introduced her to someone who wanted to have sex with her Her memory of the concrete floor under her back and the enfolding arms afterward than the sex itselfI was compelled by Nelson's writing and like a traffic accident I didn't want to read on but I couldn't help but gawk anywayLooking for a good book? If Only You People Could Follow Directions is a collection of memoir essays by Jessica Hendry Nelson that recalls a sad family lifeI received a digital copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

  9. says:

    I wish I could say this was a riveting tale of a family woes and triumph over addiction with the help of love To me this seemed like one long disjointed journal entry The broken or fragmented recall of her past did not vibe with me So what she got high and still managed to graduate from college Her tales of getting high with her mom and friends her friends struggles the highs and lows didn't tell this story any differently to me Many people did thisit's called living life in poverty Just when my interest was piued or I was moved to care she switched topics I wanted to ask her to follow directions Then I realized she wasn't trying to follow any and based on her tales didn't think anyone in her co dependent family could either Maybe my history as a substance abuse counselor made me want to counsel her rather than anything else The book wasn't terrible but I doubt if I'll ever read it again

  10. says:

    There's a blurb on the back of this book that talks about how Nelson has taken another familial memoir of addiction and made it vital and compelling I have to respectfully disagree To me it was just another familial memoir about addiction While I appreciated her writing there are some great poetic lines in here I wasn't that into the story Yes the characters have their uirks and they are portrayed wonderfully well but I've read this type of story so so many times Nothing about it hit me suare between the eyes which is what I want from a memoir Also I found it kind of scattered It jumps around A LOT sometimes without a section break to clue you in to what's happening One paragraph is in the present the next is a flashback to another time I really wanted to like this but it just didn't do it for me