There is no such thing as an average memoir, but if there were, Karen Walker's story, Following the Whispers: Creating a life of inner peace and self-acceptance from the depths of despair, would not be among them. From the title of her first chapter, "In the Beginning ... There Was Self-Hatred" to the guidelines for weight management at the end, this book is unusually rich with personal insight. Walker mentions late in the book that as she began mining her extensive collection of journals for writing material, she used them to write a self-help book. An editor informed her that she had a book in her, "but it wasn't on those pages." The editor urged her to "tell her story." Following the Whispers is the result of that advice.
Walker has taken a three-pronged approach to telling her story. She documents the events of her life, explains the psychological dynamics of her emotions and reactions, and shares the spiritual journey that ultimately led to happiness, joy and healing. These elements are smoothly interwoven to form a cohesive tale that held my interest throughout.
The story itself has all the elements of a classic good read: plot, well-developed characters, and plenty of tension created by obstacles that often seem overwhelming. Walker's life was a challenge from a very young age. Her parents fought constantly. Her father destroyed her love of dancing with a careless remark, and constantly assured her that she was ugly and "no good." She was molested by a stranger at the tender age of seven. When she grew up, she married the wrong man for the wrong reasons and ended up losing custody of their son. Her self-loathing for her part in that loss continued for nearly twenty years, but about the time it occurred, she began began a decades-long process of healing the wounds she had suffered. Ultimately she was reunited with her son and developed a strong and loving relationship with him. She forgave her parents and moved beyond forgiveness to develop love and affection for her father in his last years.
On the psychological level, the memoir reads like an autobiographical case study or psychological profile. Throughout the book Walker explains the psychological dynamics of her relationships and perceptions, frequently citing explanations provided by a long string of therapists. These clinical insights are shared in a frank, yet intimately person way that precludes any hint of self-pity. Because she explains her emotions and feelings of guilt, shame and similar things so directly, the reader is bound to learn something of personal value and gain useful insights.
The spiritual element of the story runs through like a thin thread of gold sparkling through the thicker threads of narrative and explanation. Born Jewish by heredity but not practice, she discovered a sense of peace in lighting Chanukah candles given to her by a friend's mother when she was young, though her parents refused to support her in this. Twenty years passed before she became more serious about things of the spirit, and her journey to spiritual freedom and light led her to explore the Episcopal church, piles of self-help books, EST, Al Anon, and study various religions and metaphysical/inspirational teachers. Ultimately she found her own path and learned to trust the "whispers" of Spirit as it speaks to her.
As I closed the book, I was struck by wonder—reading intimate details of her life, seeing the world through her eyes as the years passed, gave me a powerful sense of respect and admiration for all the work she put into freeing her true self from the shackles of self-doubt, shame and guilt that bound her from such a tender age. In the space of a few short hours, I have come to know her more deeply than most people I've known for decades. This is the more remarkable for the fact that she writes sparely, using precisely targeted words to cover approximately sixty years in 163 pages. I admire both the heart and the craft of this book.
Karen Walker is writer who has published essays in newspapers and magazines, as well as in an anthology series. After a 30+ year career in marketing and public relations, Walker went back to college to complete a Bachelor's degree and graduated Summa Cum Laude in 2005 from the University of New Mexico's University Studies program with a major emphasis in Creative Writing. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with her husband, Gary, and their dog, Buddy.
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