Appreciating the dark side of life since 1975.

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Brightside Booklist + The One Show You Should Be Watching

Home Is Burning by Dan Marshall You wouldn’t expect it with a title like this, but this addition to the Brightside Booklist was FUNNY. What’s funny about a mom living with cancer and a father suddenly diagnosed with ALS, you say? Well, lots of things. […]

Cemetery burials, New Orleans styles

Cemetery burials, New Orleans styles

When I hopped off that plane, I wanted to squeal right over to the nearest cemetery. New Orleans=mandatory cemetery tour, right? Well, there are A LOT of them and we only had time for one. My family tolerates my cemetery obsession, but aren’t as interested […]

Brightside Booklist

Brightside Booklist

The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride by Daniel James Brown

The Indifferent Stars Above
The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride by Daniel James Brown

Ever heard of the term “gastronomic incest”? No? I hadn’t either, but I definitely got schooled on the topic while reading this one. This book about the Donner Party was fascinating and not just because I got to read gorey details about cannibalism. This story just really, really put life into perspective. I remember thinking to myself, “It sucks that I ran out of milk and I stubbed my toe, but WHOA. At least I’m not trekking through twenty-five feet of snow while snowblind, sustaining myself only on shoe leather.”

Which brings us back to the gastronomic incest. There were so many details about the Donner Party having to resort to feasting on dead family members and friends that I’m sure I gasped out loud for pages and pages on end. Reading about a woman salivating over the scent of her own husband’s heart roasting over a fire is, well, crazy and upsetting. As I said, there was plenty of these sort of details, but the narrative was written in such a way that you were just PULLING for these people to make it through. We all know how the story ends, but I was hoping that somehow, in an alternate universe, these people would have made different decisions and hadn’t faced such ridiculous odds. Clearly, they were doomed from the beginning. From the decision to waste time looking for cattle, to the lying idiot that told them that they could take a shortcut that would save them time (I’m looking at you, Lansford Warren Hastings).  In this case, that time “saved” equaled certain death. The author made the observation that had the Donner Party trek occurred with modern transportation, they could have made the same journey over the mountains in approximately seven minutes. SEVEN MINUTES.

This book was well-researched and included a lot of historical details about what life in general was like in 1867. When a party member died, for example, he discusses funeral customs. There are also descriptions about hygiene practices from that era and it made me want to grab a toothbrush. Descriptions of the effects of UV rays on eyesight, hypothermia and mortality rates are also provided, which allows the reader to really grasp what these people were encountering. It was an easy, fast-paced and satisfying book.

Let’s just say I devoured it.

 

If you like this, you might also enjoy this book about a giant, deadly FIRE STORM that happened in Hinckley, MN in 1894. It’s called Under a Flaming Sky and it’s written by the same author, Daniel James Brown.

Click here to see some of my previous book reviews. Let me know if you’ve read any of them!

 

Need a Happy Cry? Check Out These Four Stories

Death, despair, tragedy, and misfortune are normally my JAM, right? Well, I’ve got to say that right now, I’m kind of over it. Not totally over it (don’t worry), but sometimes I need a reminder that the world isn’t completely full of a-holes. Don’t worry, […]

New Orleans, Brightside Style

New Orleans, Brightside Style

I had been wanting to go to New Orleans for years and it never seemed to happen. Flights were always expensive, we have a small kid (it’s hard to party on Bourbon Street with a kid, right?) and, well, the timing was never right. Enter […]

Three Memoirs To Read Right Now

Three Memoirs To Read Right Now

I’m not sure what my problem was, but between the months of January and June I only read one book. ONE BOOK. This is a problem, people. I have always considered myself to be a master of flying through books and I may have even unneccessarily bragged about it a time or two (yeah, I’m that cool).

So, here we are in July and I have gotten back on the proverbial horse. Much to my amazement, I read three memoirs in two weeks. The last book in this list? I READ THE ENTIRE THING LAST NIGHT. It’s true what they say: stay off of Facebook for 5 minutes and wonderful things will happen! If you’re looking for a couple of quick and entertaining reads, these definitely have my stamp of approval.                                                                                                

We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down: Memoir of a Gravedigger’s Daughter by Rachael Hanel

I have passed by this book several times, but I finally decided to give it a go because, well, graveyards. The author grew up in a small town 75 miles from Minneapolis, MN and her father was the town’s gravedigger. It’s a story about people faced with sorrow, but they plod on with stoic faces. It’s about having an awareness of time passing, but not being able to grasp the finality of death. I related to the author as she described walking through the cemetery, calculating dates and creating stories of the people buried there. After her father dies (not a spoiler, don’t worry), she finally understands the fractures that often occur when a beloved family member dies, which was very different than what she expected.

 

Fiction Ruined My Family by Jeanne Darst

I randomly came across this book in a thrift store and I said, “A book about ruined families? I’m in!” I’m not kidding when I say that that was probably the first thought in my head. I love these kinds of books as they remind me that most everyone has craziness in their family and that, maybe, mine is NOT the craziest after all. Basically, it is the story of Jeanne, her siblings, her I’m-a-writer-but-I-don’t-write-anything dad and her alcoholic, weepy mother. Soon enough, Jeanne is attempting to be a writer and dips a little too deep into the drank. There was a lot of humor (see: infestation of crabs cured by wearing a garbage bag diaper) and many flawed characters with stories that hit close to home.

Unabrow by Una Lamarche              

This was the book that I read in ONE night. It was a cute little collection of essays that was easy to fly through and had me laughing out loud more than once. As you probably guessed by the cover, it’s the author’s story of growing up with a giant caterpillar on her face (no one offered to pluck that shit?). The little girl with the unibrow becomes a young woman that feels uncomfortable in her own body and, like me, had a penchent for wearing men’s XL t-shirts to try and hide her awkwardness.  I could relate to her love of making Christmas lists and all of the lying she did in order to make herself sound cool (just like the time I lied and said, “That isn’t MY Mariah Carey tape, pfshhhh.”). It was definitely not a life changing tome, but it was a sweet reminder that I wasn’t the only late bloomer at the party.

 

 

 

How to Tell If You’re a Psychopath, Part 2

While searching the internet for a photo of Jeffrey Dahmer (because I’m sure no one knows what he looks like), I came upon a category titled “Jeffrey Dahmer CUTE.” This is one of the photos listed in that category: Now, I’m not sure about you, […]

How to Tell If You’re a Psychopath

“You ruined this for kids. I will applaud when you die.” Who was the recipient of these words, you ask? John Wayne Gacy. What did he ruin for kids, you ask (besides their lives)? He ruined clowns and Eric Hickey, Ph.D. wanted to make sure […]

How to be the sweetest mother-daughter family NEVER.

Imagine being trapped in a wheelchair for nearly 20 years and being told not to walk, let alone move your legs. Being coerced to play the part of a leukemia and muscular dystrophy patient. To act as if you are five years behind your peers developmentally and suffer from “retardation.” And all of this is forced upon you by your own mother.

THEN, what if you were OVER IT and just killed her already?

GYPSY ROSE

This craziness is the basis of the HBO documentary Mommy Dead and Dearest, which tells the story of Dee Dee Blanchard and her daughter, Gypsy Rose Blanchard. I watched it this weekend and it was fascinating, weird, upsetting and…..did I say weird? My husband said to me while we were watching it, “I’ve never seen you so engrossed in a movie this late at night.” Watching pretty much anything at 10:30 at night is quite a feat for me, especially when there are no Doritos involved.

Long story short, Dee Dee was really, really good at manipulating everyone around her and gaining accolades for being a wonderful, loving mother. Not only that, but she used her daughter’s “illnesses” to get a house and vacations for free.  She was able to get her daughter prescriptions which mimicked the symptoms of serious illnesses and when a doctor would catch on, she would just move onto someone else. Dee Dee supposedly had Munchausen syndrome by proxy which is a disorder in which a caregiver feigns or exaggerates the illness of someone under their care, with it typically being their child. By doing so, these “caregivers” get sympathy and attention. And free trips to Disneyland, apparently.

mugshots

Fast forward to 2015. “That bitch is dead” appears on Gypsy Rose’s Facebook page and Dee Dee has been found, stabbed to death in her bed. After a short investigation it was found that Gypsy Rose had met a young man named Nicholas Godejoh online and, after forming a very bizarre relationship, they completed “Plan B.” This plan involved Nick stabbing Dee Dee to death while Gypsy Rose waited in the bathroom. Afterwards, the two travel around, laughing and sharing brownies in bed together (they recorded this and it was, uh, very awkward).

So, now what? After the killing, Gypsy Rose is walking and healthy, shocking most everyone around her. She relays these horrific stories that she had never been able to tell anyone. Gypsy is initially charged with first degree murder, but as the stories of abuse and other mitigating circumstances are revealed the court allows some leniency. Is Gypsy Rose Blanchard better off in prison than living with her mother? Was Gypsy Rose just as manipulative as her mother? How much of this really is the truth? WE MAY NEVER KNOW.

This disorder occurs pretty rarely, but there are some other notable cases that I’ve listed here:

  • Lacey Spears was convicted of killing her son with table salt through a feeding tube and while he was “sick” she kept a blog about their life. I remember reading it with a heart full of sympathy before it was revealed that she had been poisoning him the whole time. Yikes.
  • In probably the worst case of Munchausen by proxy, Marybeth Tinning found that by having nine of her children die between 1972 and 1985 under “mysterious circumstances” she got a lot of sympathy and a lot of prison time.
  •  Julie Gregory wrote a book about growing up with a mother who coached her to exaggerate her medical symptoms and fed her foods she was specifically told not to by her doctors. This sweet mother also became upset when doctors would not perform (unnecessary) open heart surgery on her daughter.

One last thing. According to Dee Dee’s family members, she wasn’t very well liked. In fact, after her death her own sister suggested that they just go ahead and flush her ashes down the toilet. If I’m ever acting like someone who deserves to have their ashes flushed, please let me know. Deal?

 

 

 

 

Funny Obituaries (Part 1)

This gem came from my hometown newspaper, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. Isn’t it great? I don’t like to beat around the bush, so I can respect a guy that just gets straight to the point.   I cannot count how many times someone has sent […]