Jeff Giles
March 23, 2012 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Current Status
In Season
Jeanette Winterson
Grove Press

We gave it an A-

Many memoirs, even some of the transfixing ones, are full of 10 kinds of crap. No one’s life plays out with a tidy moral. No one remembers conversations verbatim from when they were 7. And very few people understand their own psyches, let alone their drunk dad’s. Winterson — a celebrated British novelist — has written an account of growing up with a manic-depressive, abusive, apocalypse-minded evangelical mother that’s all the more riveting precisely because she doesn’t claim to have all the answers. (The title is something her mom said when young Jeanette told her she was happy to be gay.) There’s a lot of flinty humor in Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, a lot of insight into the emotional legacy of adoption — and a generally refreshing admission that understanding life is as hard as living it. A-

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