Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews This Never Happened by Liz Scott. (University of Hell Press)
This Never Happened is a mystery.
Liz Scott takes the time to present her own life almost like a noir novel, unfolding the narrative and setting up the questions she wants, she needs, answered. Scott’s mother was so incredibly secretive and elusive and far beyond coy that you can’t read This Never Happened without having a little voice in your head whispering, Why is she doing this? What is that woman hiding?
Throughout the book, Scott weaves in and out of time, jumping to different points in her life, providing readers juicy snippets of scenes. It’s a collage that gets more defined as the entire arc of a life unravels, but as the narrative comes into focus, it becomes clear that there is a bigger need for Scott to give us a pretty spectacular ending, if only to satisfy the curiosity that she’s built up.
Scott’s voice immediately drew me into the story. She injects an air of intrigue, and she’s clearly smart, curious, and sick of all the bullshit she’s had to deal with in her life. Exasperated also comes to mind. This Never Happened dives into her past, both known and unknown slices of it.
Growing up, her mom kept all the cards close to her chest, even with her own family. For example: Scott was an adult by the time she found out she was Jewish. Another: she wasn’t aware of an aunt or cousins she had, again until she was an adult (and it was discovered without fanfare—on a routine call her mom simply dropped the information that she was going to New York to help her sister). One more: her grandpa may have been a rabbi?
Written in short and intimate bursts and moments collected together, This Never Happened is a life’s montage that Scott allows us the opportunity to piece together like a puzzle along with her.
There comes a moment while Scott’s mother is on her deathbed when she offers to answer any question. As shocked as she is with her mother’s declaration to potentially, finally be truthful, our own desire for these same answers is piqued. But Scott, masterfully irritating (which is the point), does not quench our thirst (or hers, really) at the first occurrence of this offer. She just moves on to the next scene.
Written in short and intimate bursts and moments collected together, This Never Happened is a life’s montage that Scott allows us the opportunity to piece together like a puzzle along with her. Early on, we arrive at a scene between her child-self and her dad, but it’s not until much later that we realize it was the last time she saw her father until she was an adult.
This Never Happened is a family history from the perspective of a family member who doesn’t have all the information. (And with such a mother, how could you?) The moments read like fully formed short stories and, while some of these don’t necessarily push the overall narrative forward, they bring a joyous texture to the book, providing snapshots of a life—and then of two lives: when the book veers into memoir or autobiography, Scott becomes the center of attention, but there is still the underlying presence of her parents. She can’t get away from them. She is the way she is because of who her parents were; they set the circumstances that ultimately molded and created the person living—and telling the story—today.
There was a point when I was afraid Scott had painted herself into a corner. By the middle of the book, I thought expectations had been set too high. So, when the scene where her mom offered to answer any and all questions came up again, I was ready not only for the answers, but also for what Scott was going to ask. The second time her mom’s dying offer comes up, just like the first, she pivots to something else. In a way, she embodies what her own mom did to her growing up. We readers have questions, too, and we want some goddamn answers.
Yet, it’s not as if unlocking the answers is going to change the course of Liz Scott’s life. At this juncture, she turns the dissection inward and begins searching for her own desires about why this whole “mom ordeal” has brought such stress to her own life, elevating This Never Happened past a normal procedural or memoir. She’s giving us something to take with us and ponder, a new lens from which to view our own self-reflections. And it works.