“I did not feel unsafe around my father’s new friend, but I did feel as though my father was, in some way,” Brandi Spering writes in her new memoir, This I Can Tell You. The book follows Spering as she looks upon her childhood and uncovers the hidden secrets and mysteries within the family and her environment. It retells Spering’s youth through mature eyes in a surprisingly suspenseful rendition of childhood. Spering feels like a friend—that friend who has the best stories that often lead to anecdotes within the original story. The narration isn’t sugar-coated, instead it is sarcastic, thought provoking, and extremely honest. Spering's prose, humor, and honest recollections of childhood bring us to a relatable place, while also offering extraordinary events. “This is where it gets messy,” she warns us.
Spering brings us into her life with her wit and prose, introducing us to the themes of her childhood. Throughout the story, Spering addresses death and all of the mysteries and emotions that arrive with it. “It took years for Grandma to move from her side of the mattress to the middle,” Spering recalls, reflecting on her grandmother’s response to her husband’s death. Young Spering experiences death from multiple perspectives and illustrates the impact that it has. “When you witness or hear of another’s loss, you count by dialing who you have,” Spering tells us. With loss, the concept of absence is also explored with Spering’s experience having an absent parent. In the story, Spering talks about attempting to bond with her father after a period of lost connection: “at first, we tried to find things to do together, like go to the movies, but we would leave at the first sex joke and call it quits. It wasn’t exactly bonding, either. He would leave a seat empty between us.” Spering’s experience with her family can definitely be relatable. Many people have separated parents or an absent parent—a reader can easily connect with Spering’s story. “I watched him come and go, popping my head in and out of the curtains,” Spering says, watching her father through the window. She illustrates the sewn-shut curtains between the sides of the family illustrating the common struggle of family conflict in her iconic prose.
I loved the imagery and detail in the memoir. It is insanely specific, yet vague at the same time. Spering composes beautifully and elegantly, pairing her prose with sarcastic and snarky inner-dialogue to illustrate her childhood environment, creating a bittersweet tone. “Bottom of palm to lids, the viewing of eye whites. The hologram projections in the corner of contested inertia assumed hallucinations,” Spering writes. The author gives readers detail after detail, writing them all with seamless poetics.
While Spering brings us into her world with prose and imagery, some details in the memoir are left unknown or half-told. “We are not meant to understand everything,” Spering claims, addressing the blur that most childhood memories exist as. There is an adolescent uncertainty because we don’t know why things are the way they are. “I asked Ms. Johnson, What if you don’t have a dad? To which she replied, Everybody has a dad. I didn’t know he was healing,” Spering admits, finally understanding what she didn’t realize in her youth. Because of the many unknown aspects of childhood memories, some of the details in the book can be vague. Although it could be seen as a fault to some audiences, the vague aspects in the memoir are done in a classy, tasteful way, leaving the reader hooked and creating more suspense. Spering illustrates details like, “The gentle hum shifted,” and “We suspected a toxic leak, an old soul, and other ghosts,” which don’t get painted any further than this. The simple details are sure to hold some form of symbolism—the vagueness opens a space for interpretation and connection with the reader.
The style and format of the book are equally as compelling as the story itself. Some selections are more rhythmic than others, which illustrated the speed at which events occurred (or how they seem in Spering’s mind). These sections also bring exquisite imagery to the story, leaving readers with the scene.
“There are forms
that stand in
trying to write of a hole
what hides in it
what dances along the brim
Spering retells her story of youth and grief in a way that made me feel nostalgic about some aspects of my own life. The imagery and language used in the book made me feel like I was watching a film. Some parts made my heart hurt, while others made me smile. The memoir lets the reader into almost every aspect of Spering’s childhood, creating such a grand atmosphere, while leaving room for missing pieces. Spering shows how everyone grows up differently, and matures at different speeds. Everyone has their own truth, thoughts and observations. Everyone has their own story. This book tells a remarkably mysterious story about relationships and family that everyone can find something in, regardless of our differences. It is sure to entertain any reader with the mysteries and secrets that it brings forward. Her story is surprising and puzzling—it kept me thinking the whole time.
This I Can Tell You is a must-read for self-reflection and notes in margins, and reading it will leave you thinking and feeling nostalgic.
This I Can Tell You is out now at Perennial Press.
About the Author
Ari is a small-town teen writer and poet who loves soup, skirts, and sonnets. Her mind is swimming in a pool of poetry, journalism, art, Emily Dickinson, feminism, fashion, Edgar Allan Poe, and disposable cameras. She loves writing to inspire and express, but the majority of her published work has been more news related. Her work can be found on her school’s online news publication- eSomethin.com- or on her social media. When not writing, she can be found listening to Bikini Kill, re-reading Percy Shelley’s “The Daemon of the World,” or riding her bike in the wrong shoes. She thinks everyone should: read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, own a leather jacket, and wake up early to watch the sun rise.