Review: The author feared that the house of Kirkwood would “swallow us alive” | book reviews

By Dale Singer Post-shipment Special

Linda Murphy Marshall first saw Ivy Lodge when she was 9 years old, on a trip with her parents, sister and two brothers to see the family home in Kirkwood that would shape much of her childhood.

The last time she saw him, the visit that sparked an insightful memoir, she joined her three siblings again, after their parents died, to sort through the family’s belongings and plumb the memories. – some pleasant, some hurtful, all contributing to the woman she has become.

And as she reviews her life – piece by piece, object by object, memory by memory – “Ivy Lodge” becomes a sometimes painful, always poignant review of the experiences that led to the writer and translator that she is. today. After the Murphys moved three blocks from his former home on Gill Avenue in 1960, Marshall’s life was shaped by his family, his experiences and his environment.

Recalling the first time she saw Ivy Lodge, Marshall writes:

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“Long before I became a translator, passionate about words, my favorite word was ‘cosy’. Nothing about Ivy Lodge conjured up that image for me. Cozy meant hugs and smiles, huddling on a couch with a bowl of popcorn with people who loved you cuddled up against you. With my active imagination, I would have thought that this big dark house would swallow us alive, that it had nothing to do with being cozy. I would have wondered how the six of us would manage to find ourselves once settled in such a cavernous place.

As she suspected, finding her place in the family and in the world would not be easy.

“We had been torn from a simpler world,” writes Marshall, “thrown into a new one where we played certain roles. The dark atmosphere of Ivy Lodge saturated us all, a gradual but relentless metamorphosis.

“In a sense, we have all become prisoners of Ivy Lodge: prisoners of the opulent facade it depicts, of the dark atmosphere inside and out, prisoners of our parents’ plans for our lives in this home.”

Marshall’s portraits of these parents are particularly revealing.

She defines her father, Samuel B. Murphy, as “community pillar, lawyer, successful businessman, former FBI agent, former state senator, commercial real estate titan in his later years, chief of church, expert in model railroading, autodidact.-makes the man all in one.

He was a quick-to-anger, slow-to-forgive man, not someone who provided Marshall with a great store of good memories, though she long remembers doing the Hokey Pokey and the Bunny Hop with him during a father-daughter dance in Missouri. Athletic club. “I didn’t want the dance or the party to end,” she wrote.

As for his mother, Janet, the picture was mixed.

“My mother’s behavior troubled me when I was a child; I had two – or more – mothers. A stern, cold, professional. The other, childish. Yet another forced a smile from time to time – usually in the presence of other people – telling me how much she loved me. But this affectionate woman’s voice never rang true, making me feel like I was watching a TV show, but one with an actress not qualified to deliver her lines.

Such subtleties of language, Marshall writes, may have helped shape his career choice, but they weren’t always helpful in understanding those close to him.

“What was the point of communicating if, inevitably, a subtext arose, which I had trouble understanding in my naivety, in my disarray? What was the point if the meaning of a word had been twisted to fit secret agendas, reversed for unknown ulterior motives, withheld for other reasons? Translating what I was told had become impossible for me, my work with languages, my love of words was failing me when it came to my own family. All my dictionaries have proven useless in trying to decipher a life of communication laden with subtexts buried under more subtexts.

Eventually leaving St. Louis after an irreparable rift with the rest of his family, Marshall moves to Maryland and immerses himself in his career, husband, and children. Returning to Ivy Lodge to share legacies, precious and mundane, helps her put this change into perspective.

At the end, Marshall writes, “I realize that it took the deaths of both my parents for me to finally begin to see who I am, but not through their eyes. I will never forget them; my parents and I have been close together since I was a young child, but their words drowned out my own voice. I’m starting to blossom. »

Dale Singer retired in 2017 after a 45-year career in journalism in St. Louis. He lives in western St. Louis County.

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Alycia R. Lindley