Book Review: Laugh Cry Rewind
Reviewed by Joelene Pynnonen
A poignant memoir that shows how love perseveres beyond death
Content warnings: cancer
Judy Haveson lives a charmed life in 1970s/80s Houston. Her parents are forward-thinking, compassionate, and devoted to their two children. As a schoolteacher, her mother spends holidays traveling with her daughters. Even Judy’s extended family are close-knit. But unfortunately, her idyllic childhood isn’t to last.
A series of crushing, traumatic experiences afflict the Havesons. The last and worst is the news that Judy’s sister, Celia, has gotten cancer.
In the face of this newest challenge, Judy’s family does what it has always done: pulls together. This time, though, there is no coming back from the heartbreak. At 19, Judy loses her only sister. Now she and the rest of her family must learn to navigate life without her.
Laugh Cry Rewind could easily fall into pity memoir territory, but the often funny, irreverent tone puts it onto another level. While the central most devastating event in Judy’s life might have been losing her sister, Celia’s life dominates the page more than her death. This isn’t the story of a person fixed on one terrible moment, but of a person whose moments, both bad and good, all add up to an incredible life.
On one hand, it seems remarkable that Judy can live such a courageous and rich life after all she has endured; on the other, it seems impossible that she would do anything else. Even in her darkest hour, Celia’s focus is in protecting her family. Making sure that they would not only survive without her, but flourish. Rather than falling into grief, Judy aims to make hers a life Celia could be proud of.
I haven’t read a memoir that explores existence in quite the same way as this one. It leans much more toward being uplifting than miserable. The Havesons are the type of people who would be inspiring simply by being themselves. They handle all the obstacles that are thrown at them with an exorbitant amount of grace and fortitude. The openness of their conversations even about topics that most people would never want to broach is impressive.
The prose in Laugh Cry Rewind is richly detailed. Judy’s memory must be amazing, because there are times the details are so precise and authentic that the writing transports you completely into the scene. While this adds a level of reality I haven’t often found in memoirs, the emotional landscape is sometimes lacking. This isn’t to say that there’s a dearth of emotion here. The love between Judy and her family is palpable, as is the anxiety as she searches for a relationship or the uncertainty in making difficult career choices. But there are times where the feelings may still be raw, and it feels as though Judy pulls back emotionally and only describes the event.
Laugh Cry Rewind is a poignant portrait of a life well lived. Funny, awkward, and sad by turns, it explores the ins and outs of navigating all the complexities of the world from adolescence to relationships to careers.
Genre: Nonfiction / Memoir / Family Life
Print Length: 298 pages
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