Out from the Underworld
Heather Siegel
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Out from the Underworld
Heather Siegel
Greenpoint Press
228 pages
April 2015
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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In my mind, it had been easier to idolize the dead parent and to blame the live one…but she’d left us, of her own volition, and that, I had to admit, wasn’t his fault.
When Heather, age five, her older sister, Jaz, and baby brother, Greg, were abandoned by their mother, it was only the beginning of sorrows. It couldn’t have been much more macabre, since their father, who lived by choice in a basement—not a finished basement but a dank cellar, with low ceilings and pipes and boilers, a hideout more than a residence—also worked in a funeral home. For outings he would take his brooding brood of three to his workplace to cavort among the caskets and survey such bizarre features as the make-up table, where he made corpses (once including Heather’s mom) look their best. To literally climb out of the basement into the light was a challenge that, slowly but surely, Heather and her siblings managed to accomplish.

But before the light, there were other forms of darkness, primary among those the periods spent in foster care. Being told that their dad just had to get himself together and they would be home soon, the “care” they got at times bordered on abuse, certainly neglect. In the case of baby Greg, violence was perpetrated; in the case of the girls, sex played a role in shaping their view of life in the “homes” they were consigned to. In one case, Heather innocently strove to please a “smother mother” who clung to her, desperately afraid to be alone. All the while, their pot-smoking father was pursuing numerous relationships with pretty young women; almost any kind of female could apply for life in the basement, as long as she looked young and luridly attractive, not unlike the mother that Heather, Jaz, and Greg had lost. When the youngsters attended her funeral, it should have brought a kind of closure. Prompted by a weird encounter with a Ouija board, they realized that their mother would continue to haunt them until they were able to piece together the circumstances of her violent demise.

Looking at those years of emotional chaos from the security of a stable family life that she has worked hard to attain, and with creative talent bolstered by an MFA in writing, Heather Siegel portrays her semi-orphaned childhood as harsh, eerie, and very real. There’s no doubt that kids who have been warehoused in foster care, who have been left to wonder what happened to a disappeared parent, even kids brought up in families with a parent who was simply mentally ill or addicted or for whatever reason incompetent and inattentive, will feel resonance with Heather’s harrowing but ultimately hopeful coming-of-age saga.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Barbara Bamberger Scott, 2015

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