by Barbara R. Moss

Scribner, 2004. ISBN 0743229452.
Reviewed by Lee Ambrose
Posted on 11/04/2004

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Relationships

I first "met" author Barbara Robinette Moss when I read Change Me Into Zeus's Daughter back in 2001. In that first memoir, I recognized a resilient woman of incredible strength despite an impoverished, abusive and physically challenged childhood. In her newest memoir, Fierce, the same strength of character, resilience, and determination are the threads that weave the author's story. I loved Zeus's Daughter and doubted that a second memoir could even begin to compare in depth and quality. I was wrong. Fierce is another deeply moving, poignant look at Moss's life from a different perspective than her previous book.

This is the story of the author as a single mother who chooses to turn away from the ways of life she experienced as a child. Her goal to provide a better life for her son is admirable. Her determination to fulfill that goal is nothing less than remarkable.

As is so often true for children of alcoholic and abusive parents, Moss finds herself in addictive and abusive relationships but eventually is able to break out of that pattern. In doing so, she reclaims the dreams that she abandoned as a child. But she also begins to understand more clearly why her mother did or did not act differently when her father was in the depths of alcoholism and abusive behavior.

The author's foreword hooked me right away, convincing me that I was in for another incredible journey with Moss as my guide. An excerpt: "Fierce was written like one of my mother's quilts. The chapters, like seemingly separate pieces of cloth sewn together, create a pattern, the very thread of life."

Throughout the pieces of the story that become Fierce, Moss interjects some of her childhood to provide enough backstory for new readers. But have no doubt that the story stands alone and provides a powerful memoir at its best. Though one could read Fierce without having read Zeus's Daughter, I am grateful for the backstory the first book provided. It allowed me to understand even more fully the extremely difficult life Moss has led and her remarkable determination to break away from her previous life.

Moss introduces readers to her brothers and sisters as now-grown siblings... in some instances, complete with their own alcoholic tendencies. She brings us through her tumultuous relationships with several abusive men, each with his own addictive tendencies. And with descriptive scenes that can only be written by one who has lived through it, she details her relationship with a non-compliant schizophrenic.

Perhaps one of the most difficult traumas of the author's adult life was her father's suicide. After much prodding, Moss allows herself to seek counseling but doubts its ability to help her get on track. Fortunately, her counselor is just the right person to help. Reluctantly, Moss agrees to go to ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) and comes to realize the benefit in the community of people who share the same sort of history. She writes, "My childhood trauma continued to wake me at night, but they didn't swallow me up like before."

Just as in Zeus's Daughter, Moss manages to share her story with raw truths while still interjecting her own bits of humor. It is in these humorous tidbits that one discovers the depth of the author. She writes, "For those who have lived similar circumstances, and for those who haven't but want to better understand their friends and loved ones who have, I hope you will find warmth, and ultimately comfort, in these words."

Moss is the 1996 winner of the Gold Medal for Personal Essay in the William Faulkner Creative Writing Contest. That winning essay was transformed into the first chapter of Change Me into Zeus's Daughter. A full-time artist and writer, Moss also won the Iowa Authors Award in 2000 and the Alabama Author's Award in 2002.

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