Carol Es: Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley

“A Los Angeles artist revisits her volatile life as a Scientologist rocker in this debut memoir.

“Es grew up moving around the San Fernando Valley, switching neighborhoods on the whims of her unstable mother—a woman suffering from bipolar disorder who was prone to violent outbursts and suicide attempts. The author’s father, relatively more stable, was nonetheless known for brandishing a gun in public. From her preteen years, Es sought companionship in her brother Mike’s pot-smoking garage band. This incited her obsession with drums; introduced her to a relative of John Travolta’s and thus Scientology; and also led to the loss of her virginity, which offers some of the memoir’s most heart-wrenching, affecting passages. By age 15, Es was working for her family’s business but not “exactly” living at home or going to school. This unconventional upbringing, reminiscent of those found in dark and quirky autobiographies like Augusten Burroughs’ Running with Scissors, takes up the book’s first half. But in recounting her adult life, Es truly taps into intriguing self-reflection. She writes of the moderate success that her band, The Extinct, attained by touring with comedian Pauly Shore and of her brainwashing in Scientology. Being “in a band made up of Scientologists? It’s a cult within a cult,” she writes. Even as it became apparent that she had major health issues and had inherited her mother’s mental instability, the author refused to seek care, opting for a Scientologist’s self-reliance. She provides engrossing details about cults, playing with the peculiar vocabulary of Scientology to craft hilarious and terrifying illustrations of people constructing their own realities. (One memorable fight with a boyfriend named Peaches ended with Es screaming “REFUND CYCLE,” apparently violent words considered a “high crime.”) After her break with the church, the author eventually found stability in a new relationship and her art (samples of which are scattered throughout the book) as well as the voice she used to tell her story, which is simultaneously acerbic, warm, and funny.

“A captivating account filled with sharp perspectives on mental illness, childhood trauma, Scientology, and art.”

-Kirkus Reviews

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“Carol Es has written about our essence and blasted it across the stars. I could not stop turning the pages. Her book is insightful, funny, horrifying, and beautiful, like life itself.”

-Michael Phillips, Author of Alternative Man

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“Carol’s deeply moving and inspiring story sheds light on the resiliency of the human spirit to overcome profound childhood sexual abuse and neglect.  With her raw, truthful, and at times humorous voice, she illustrates the insidiousness of unquestioned authority and takes us on her harrowing journey towards the restoration of her reality and emotional freedom.” 

-Magen Todd, Ph.D., CSAT, Trauma Specialist

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“While seemingly strapped to a spinning wheel as a blindfolded carny throws knives at her, knives tipped with the poison of her off-kilter family, sexual assault, Scientology and abusive relationships, Es takes us through all this with a singular voice full of humor and warmth.”

-Stephen Hines, Author of The Late Season

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“With her strong voice and talent for descriptive experiences, Carol Es’s writing is raw and original, giving you a sense that you are right there with her. Definitely a memoir to be enjoyed!”

-Nancy Many, Author of My Billion Year Contact: Memoir of a Former Scientologist