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by Daniel Tomasulo
Graywolf Press, 2008
Review by James K. Luiselli, Ed.D., ABPP, BCBA on Nov 11th 2008

Confessions of a Former Child

In this collection of autobiographical essays, psychologist Daniel J. Tomasulo writes about his childhood years, young adulthood, and perspectives as a mature professional. His reflections are heartfelt, a mixture of distant memories and formative experiences that he shares with humor, joy, and a few surprises. Like all good memoir, we learn many things about the writer, which also resonate with a collective consciousness.

Tomasulo's stories don't run in chronological order but instead are built around unifying themes: relationships with his parents, dealing with the loss of friends, career development, becoming a father. Not simply descriptive, these narratives convey messages about the ambiguities of thoughts and feelings, the malaise and pleasure often associated with the same event, and the odd ways knowledge is acquired. Virtually all of the pieces in the book benefit from the author's acute ear for dialogue and his ability to communicate real and imagined conversations to the printed page.

The book also succeeds because it makes you laugh. Consider, for example, the wonderful account of Tomasulo's unusual food aversion as a child after learning about his mother's pregnancy (he avoided anything that contained seeds). And then there is his struggle administering the Rorschach test to a man who had cognitive challenges and a proclivity for seeing women lurking within every inkblot! This is fun stuff guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

 Mixed with the humor are many poignant remembrances. Growing up, Tomasulo relished excursions with his father where they shared each other's undivided attention and talked about things to come. His mother, too frequently, perplexed him with her aloofness and seemingly contrived affection.  I was moved by his sensitive portrayal of coming to grips with these and other family matters when supporting his parents through ill health and ultimately their passing.

The writing in this book is first rate, and though subtitled "a therapist's memoir," you don't have to be a social scientist or a mental health professional to enjoy it. The author's psychologist eye refines his interpretation of experiences familiar to all of us. And yet, what he has to say will strike a responsive chord with anyone who has lived with uncertainty, pride, accomplishment, and that deep wonderment about what it all means.

© 2008 James K. Luiselli

James K. Luiselli, Ed.D., ABPP, BCBA is a psychologist affiliated with May Institute and a private-practice clinician. Among his publications are 6 books and over 200 journal articles. He reviews books for The New England Psychologist.