The Sensitive One book coverA Survivor’s Story

Author: Susan Frances Morris

What would you do if you were just diagnosed with breast cancer? For Susan Frances Morris her diagnoses opens the world into her past. A past she has been trying to bury. From the horrors of a degenerating, alcoholic father, to a schizophrenic sister, to an emotionally closed off mother, to an abusive first husband, Morris has suffered and survived a lot. She has overcome a lot. She is a practicing nurse. A mother. A happy wife. She has finally made it, so why now? When a brief Google for answers leads her to suspect that her past traumas, the residual PTSD, and her continued anxiety have led to her cancer, she is once again thrown into the past. It seems that escape is impossible, but acceptance might be just as impossible.

The Sensitive One is a powerful, honest memoir. Told on a basis of alternating timelines, an older Morris facing down a cancer diagnoses and chemotherapy on her own, deals with issues of abandonment and fear. Why can’t her husband be with her during her treatments? Can she really tell this deeply personal trauma to anyone, and will they even really be there to lean on if she does? In the meantime, alternate chapters take us into Morris’ past, from a briefly happy childhood into a devolving family, a drunken, enraged, absurd father and a mother who simply watches everything fall apart with a stoic disinterest. In between these two timelines, we meet the battered, brave woman who now has the courage to look back, to forgive in places, to find acceptance and love in others, and to finally tell her story. Its an honest look at childhood trauma and also the pain of a battered woman (as we go through the sequence of Morris’ first marriage – a direct outcome of the way she was taught to be treated and value herself).

Morris is the kind of person you want for a friend. At various times in her narrative I both grieved for her and longed to simply meet her, to talk to someone with so much strength and the honesty to dig into a painful past and share it, both as a cleansing therapy for herself and a warning to others who have learned to take the abuse, to nod, agreeing that their collective problems are merely the results of being sensitive, not abused and emotionally exiled.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say this was fiction. Mostly that’s because many of the memoirs I’ve read in the past have followed someone with an interesting or traumatic (or both) life, but haven’t exactly captured the essence of storytelling and engaging writing. Not so with The Sensitive One. The author takes time to create style, to consider how to arrange and reveal the two timelines for ultimate effect, to give readers just enough to understand without overwhelming or moving away from the emotional impact and aftereffects of abuse into the realm of sensationalism. It’s very well done and the fact that it is all real left me both heartbroken and bolstered. The fact that someone could survive this, could face it, could acknowledge it, and come out the other side (scars and all) is a compelling call to action – a survivor’s guide with a happiness underneath the years of hard-earned learning. It’s beautiful, something everyone should read, and a story that should challenge readers to do something about the harm we see in the world and help those around us who are still suffering, still seeking a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on, a moment of compassion during the onslaught.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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