Donna G. Bourgeois’ LIFE WITH OLLIE: The story of an only child of a single narcissistic parent purports to help people overcome their abuse to become fully realized. The autobiography of a 76-year-old first-time author doubles as a sort of self-help book, in which she coaches people on how to heal from toxic relationships. The book recounts Bourgeois’ own thorny and troubled relationship with her own mother, who was often domineering, overbearing and abusive.
Though LIFE WITH OLLIE aspires to be a self-help guide, it often reads like a list of petty grievances. Bourgeois details her childhood, her first marriage and the long-term sweep of her lifelong relationship with her mother. As aggrieved as she is, Bourgeois has little apparent interest in elucidating her mother’s point of view. She strives to document her mother’s inconsiderate narcissism, making note of every insult, slight and thoughtless act. She documents decades of abuse and degradation, including the time she was confined in a dank basement, belittling comments directed at her second husband, and 57 phone calls she was deluged with in one night.
While Bourgeois makes clear that her mother was overbearing and often cruel, she is also one-dimensional in her villainy. The book amounts to more of a screed or an attack than a layered profile that seeks any psychological or emotional depth. It recounts misdeeds by the mother, such as discouraging Bourgeois from pursuing her religious preference, stalking her daughter and kicking her out in the middle of the night after she decided to separate from her husband, who her mother deemed to be negligent as a parent by being permissive about their child’s drug use. Secondary characters like their husbands basically get extended cameos that lack both depth and development.
The author’s pain is painfully apparent, evinced in suicide attempts, anti-depressant overdoses, and the ongoing torment and verbal abuse she chronicles. Bourgeois tells the story of her life in a largely chronological but disjointed fashion with a focus on her mother’s gravitational reach. The pacing suffers as the memoir trickles forward and Bourgeois diverts on tangents, such as a litany of her own moral indiscretions over the years or a random ode to spiritual influences like the Dalai Lama. The story still flows in an easy way, with a distinctive and relatable voice. Bourgeois effectively explains what it’s like to suffer and heal, and to exist as a moon in the shadow of a dominant planet. As such, the reader is able to get into her head and comes to understand her perspective. LIFE WITH OLLIE may have been written as catharsis, but could benefit empaths forced to interact with narcissists hell-bent on hurting others.
Donna G. Bourgeois’ memoir LIFE WITH OLLIE dramatizes the author’s struggle with an uncaring and, at times, cruel parent that may proffer insight for other’s on navigating a toxic relationship.
~Joseph S. Pete for IndieReader