Sunday, November 27, 2011

Book Review of "Sleep in Me"




TITLE: Sleep in Me
AUTHOR: Jon Pineda
PUBLISHER: University of Nebraska Press
168 pages
memoir

On June 14, 1983, fate intervened in the life of 16-year old Rica Pineda, the older sister of Filipino American poet/author Jon Pineda. Rica was irreparably injured in an automobile accident in North Carolina. The accident, in which Rica’s friends were also seriously injured, was a pivotal moment in her life and as it turns out, in Jon’s as well. What happened to Rica in the ensuing years that followed is a moving and compelling affair, an affair that Jon Pineda through all his sibling pain does not hide his feelings about in his poignant recollections, “Sleep in Me”.

Pineda’s book offers a revealing look into what his sister went through as a result of the accident. In penning “Sleep in Me”, Pineda tells the story of his sister’s regression from that of an effervescent teenager to a handicapped individual incapable of speech. In the telling of his positively-intimate and poetic narrative and in the light of his personal experience, Pineda is unfailingly generous in providing his readers a thoughtful and spiritually-sustaining memoir of his sister’s misfortune.

Perhaps it is an overbelief or a rationalization to believe so, but it is said that tragedy can make you stronger as long as you overcome it. For Pineda, his sister’s predicament and his elegiac account of it does little to betray however he felt about tragedy’s eye for honing the inner strength of the soul and psyche. Pineda in fact seems unable or to be more charitable, disinclined to openly judge if Rica’s accident strengthened him or broke him.

Many of Pineda’s recurring memories of Rica from their shared childhood and during her post-accident state are ethereal expressions of his bereavement and longing. He communicates this in “Sleep in Her” by writing that the “memory of [Rica’s] voice is an album of sound I’ve been searching through and yet slowly forgetting with each day. It is the sound, I tell myself, I must not forget. But it continues to elude me.”

Pineda, as a companion theme to his memories, writes about what it means to go through the natural maturation process in the face of such affecting adversity. The impact of that process––as it was influenced by the accident––on Pineda was enormous, going back to his formative years. Childhood is a phase that many are reluctant to leave behind. Pineda though, had very little time to get used to the idea in the aftermath of Rica’s accident. Life with its attendant slings and arrows can come down hard on those least suspecting or prepared.

Half living in quiet desperation about the unfortunate facts of life surrounding Rica, Pineda became convinced that none of their family friends were particularly anxious to know what Rica’s condition was, that the truth of it might be too much to bear. As a distressed figure himself, Pineda put on a good face in front of people as a way of coping. He writes what he would have said to people and what he wouldn’t or couldn’t say in front of them: “So instead of saying, She’s not my sister anymore, I would say, She’s good. I wouldn’t say, My sister died at the scene of the accident. I wouldn’t say, Her body was replaced with this body that doesn’t function. I would say, I think she’s doing fine, or We’re hoping for the best.”

In retrospect, “Sleep in Me” does not linger in sequences or readings of observable mourning or loneliness. It also creates an altruistic momentum of its own, away from overbearing emotions of bleakness and despair. Pineda’s work is as close as we can get to a parable about how a person can rally around a tragic event and get a better idea of how to understand it and how to put it all into better proportion.

ALLEN GABORRO

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