Monica Holloway’s tragic yet hopeful memoir, Driving with Dead People, begins with the accidental death of eight-year-old Sarah Keeler. The event occurs when Monica is only eight years old herself. Her obsession with the girl’s death leads her to relationships with all things morbid: the funeral home owner; his daughter, Julie Kilner; the funeral home itself; and eventually driving with dead people, or transporting bodies from the airport to the funeral home.
Julie Kilner’s house becomes a great escape from the horribly abusive home that Monica is subjected to as a child. The funeral home becomes her playground, which may be a statement about how she is her father’s daughter. Her father is equally obsessed with death in the desire to film every tragic accident.
The memoir covers her entire life so far; this story does not stop at the end of her childhood. Bad memories are repressed and do not reveal themselves until Monica is an adult. And Monica is not the only one who suffers under the hands of her abusive father and her seemingly apathetic mother.
While the first two-thirds of the book are the most compelling, you’re emotionally invested enough in the story that you want to find out how everything turns out. Holloway’s engaging prose allows us to go on this horrific journey with her. Like a good mystery, the plots twist and the characters evolve and we think we know who the bad guy is, but then we think, oh no, that’s the good guy, no wait, that’s the bad guy. While the family dynamics and personalities seem to constantly change, those changes feel natural. We might like her mother on one page, but as time goes by, we change our minds.
Overall, this memoir is satisfying for anyone looking to read a bittersweet yet engrossing story about overcoming childhood trauma and family dysfunction.