Linda Seidel's BELINDA CHRONICLES Are In Kirksville Now





Linda Seidel’s lightly fictionalized memoir lets readers feel what it’s like for a naturally skeptical, yet persistently naïve, older woman to watch her parents age out of life, to think about the epiphanies they enable her to have, and to reflect on the lives of “elders” she didn’t appreciate until she’d worn through some years herself. The elders whose stories Seidel reconstructs were quintessentially American--meaning complex, subtle and challenging--whether it’s the “shell shocked” grandfather who immigrated to Pennsylvania after fighting for Germany in the first World War, or the nonagenarian mother who was secretly spitting out her pills at the “Lucky Stroke Nursing Home” in Missouri in 2018.


The Chronicles are organized organically, starting with a Prologue about Belinda’s “search for a genre.” The genre which she discovers is a series of vignettes, gently shaped and pruned so that readers can study them individually, as smaller sets, and cumulatively. Thus, for example, the initial series of nine short pieces is gathered under the title “Women and Mothers.” It includes stories about her mother’s childhood (“Trudi’s Parents”), her grandmother’s old age (“Lotte”), and several about her mother Trudi’s last months, branching into dead-on accurate sketches of contemporary nursing home life and workers (“Marty the Nurse”). The final vignette of “Women and Mothers” (titled “Wasting Time: Love and Class”) involves reflections on a pair of potential marriages which didn’t happen—reflections which lead naturally to a new, two-part section titled “Belinda Reflects.”


The seven vignettes gathered next, “Men and Fathers,” offer startlingly detailed glimpses into the lives of a prosperous, sometimes pompous, great-grandfather, his son the charming, womanizing (?) “Lyle,” and especially his grandson, “Leonard,” the professional musician and music teacher whose slow decline into dementia eventually brought him to the “Lucky Stroke,” near Belinda and his ex-wife, “Trudi.” In these pieces, as Belinda later reflects, she’s “portraying them not at their best but at ... their most human.”


Our memoirist’s piquant reflections nourish all her stories as surely as sap does a tree. In the four sets of stories called “Belinda Reflects,” which alternate with sets labeled “Orphans” or “Weddings and Funerals,” the musings are more like rainfall or manna. The Belinda Chronicles are rooted in Seidel’s family history, factual enough to be a memoir though the names have been changed. They’re enriched by the author’s 21st century awareness of patriarchy, feminism, class biases, and anti-immigrant prejudice. One further tribute to Belinda’s roots comes in the center of the book, where, just after a chapter titled “Peonies,” she has slipped in seven old family photos, the oldest taken about 1910, the newest from 1950. The family tree uses the Chronicles pseudonyms, but the dates are accurate.


In summary, we quote from the “Acknowledgements” section which ends the book: “[I] regard my family’s collective memories and stories as legacies, a kind of inheritance exploited and treasured by the Belinda character in these vignettes…. My greatest debt is to my elders, whose stories I have appropriated and who might feel, alternately, outraged and honored on every page, were they alive to read me.”