Memorable Memoirs: Barbara Robinette Moss’s “Change Me into Zeus’s Daughter”

Barbara Robinette Moss's Change Me into Zeus's DaughterChange Me into Zeus’s Daughter is an examination of the author’s youth; growing up verbally and physically abused by her alcoholic father, willing to risk eating poisoned corn to satiate her endless hunger, and sharing a ramshackle home with her mom and eight siblings in rural Alabama.

Moss, with pitch perfect prose, describes a father who is gone more than around, which is mostly preferable given his propensity for inflicting pain:

I had just turned seven years and didn’t think Dad’s disappearance was such a bad thing; no more dishes shattering into the wall, no more whiskey breath and smell of urine, no more fear of being discovered, of having to peek into a room before entering to see if he was slumped in a chair waiting for you to walk within his reach.

“Now I’ve got ya,” he would shout, like he had just caught a raccoon raiding the corn patch, pulling his leather belt from the loops as the unwary one struggled to get free. You didn’t have to do anything – anything at all – to get pinched, poked, shoved or hit, just be where he could reach you when he was drunk. “You belong to me and I’ll do with you what I want.”

 Unless, which often happened, he decided you didn’t belong to him at all.

The whole, awful time, Moss’s mother, Dorris is pathologically, unconditionally devoted to her brutal, irresponsible husband. Her weakness makes her unable to protect her children from his drunken rampages, and his bizarre three in the morning routine of waking the kids up and demanding they clean the house – or else – inside and out.

To make matters even worse, Moss has to live with a face – a “Silly Putty-stretched face” –  disfigured by malnutrition. Even so, to characterize Moss’s memoir as all sad and hopeless would be far from right. There is humor and sweetness in her depictions of her siblings, who, despite the large number of them, are each distinctly drawn and indelibly stamped on the reader’s mind. There are priceless anecdotes about other colorful family members or neighbors whose life stations, and psychological circumstances, are not far removed from the author’s troubling childhood environment. Saddled with these extreme disadvantages – and some might argue because of them – Moss grows up to be a superb writer, and an accomplished artist.

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