Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley

Though many people set out to write memoirs about overcoming wretched circumstances, artist Carol Es isn’t interested in auditioning for any Surviving Terrible Things Contests. As a self-taught artist and professional musician, she is a writer and a storyteller first. And though she lays bare her raw and intimate memories about growing up in Los Angeles with one of the oddest families you may ever hear about, she certainly hasn’t lost her sense of humor.

At 14 years-old, Carol left after suffering years of neglect, mental abuse, and multiple sexual molestations. She struggled to succeed as a drummer and a contemporary painter while floating between friends’ couches. Trying to cope on her own, balance school and a gamut of jobs, she mainly worked at the family business as a pattern cutter in the garment trade. In fact, she continued to work alongside her abuser during her young life before she was able to fully understand her circumstances and the complexities involved in untangling herself from her family.

Written in an unexpected perspective and a dark, but whimsy brand of humor, Carol Es melds together books like Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs and Sapphire’s Push, with the absurdity of movies like House of Yes and Where’s Poppa. Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley is captured in plain language with bursts of pointed prose. While reading these shared moments of vulnerability, you become a genuine friend, as if it’s just the two of you having a candid conversation over a cup of coffee.

Carol’s constant moves through various Los Angeles neighborhoods gives one a sense of place in a landscape through the eyes of a child without structure. Uprooted more than a dozen times before reaching 10 years-old, she frequently changed schools, and struggled with depression and anxiety. She lived decades through bipolar disorder, unmanaged and untreated , as she joined a dangerous cult where she buried many aspects of her authentic self. She recalls how it was possible to live among the real world and be completely brainwashed at the same time, virtually invisible to outsiders.

You don’t have to have a comparable story to identify with Carol. We’ve all found ourselves flailing in the dark, trying to overcome a life of hardship in one way or another. This book is not a competition about who has had it worse. It’s about facing the truth about oneself, even if that means making the same mistakes over and over again. Being willing to heal is all that matters here.