Keele Burgin’s Wholly Unraveled works through trauma and acceptance | Book review

Published on: June 18th, 2019

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Local author Keele Burgin’s memoir centers around her experience growing up in some kind of Evangelical cult on the East Coast. Her dad, one of the cult’s magnanimous leaders comes off as in control, charming and virtuous, but as the old adage goes – there is often more beneath the surface, in this case his abuse toward his daughter, Kathleen (Burgin). 

Burgin’s writing reads as if it’s written by the adolescent Kathleen. I’m not sure if it’s the intentional voice of the story, or inexperienced writing.  The memoir places a lot of emphasis on Kathleen’s appearence – of clothes she has on and how she combs her hair. Those details are strategically placed – a girl so obsessed about appearances because she’s hiding her family’s secrets, her dad’s abuse and her own insecurities. It’s a representation of her status, even if it’s a faulty representation. 

While the book has heavy themes – abuse, rape, and familial trauma, Burgin barely manages not to let the heaviness weigh the book down. She places moments of lighthearted humanness at the right moments, not letting the desire to cast her dad as a villain consume her, instead relying on human complexities to paint the portrait of her confusion and uncertainty. As an adolescent we are finding our place in the world, one that continues to chastise Kathleen for her free spirit, and sends her down that inevitable path for a ‘problem child’ faced with trauma – escapism, drugs and relationships that fuel feelings of worthlessness. 

The structure of the book feels very disjointed after the first part, each given a phase of her life or process, the first of which she labels as break (these dividing chapters change as she works through her phases of life). As she finally gets the reader into her world through her upbringing, she then quickly transitions to college, where she quickly drops out, becomes addicted to drugs and then exiles herself to a religious safe house in Canada. Understandably the book can’t cover all of her 25 years, but the disjointed nature leaves some holes I wanted filled.

Burgin’s story, her life, ends with a kind of self-acceptance we spend a lot of our lives searching for, but she’s quick to remind the reader that it’s a continual process of loss, humility, struggle, and endurance. We are all damaged in our own ways, and coming back from and coming to terms with our traumas is what connects us as humans. 

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