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Liz Scheier’s darkly funny and touching memoir—with shades of Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle and Mira Bartók’s The Memory Palace—of growing up in ’90s Manhattan with a brilliant, mendacious single mother
Scheier’s mother Judith was a news junkie, a hilarious storyteller, a fast-talking charmer you couldn’t look away from, a single mother whose devotion crossed the line into obsession, and—when in the grips of the mental illness that plagued every day of her life—a violent and abusive liar whose hold on reality was shaky at best. On an uneventful afternoon when Scheier was eighteen, her mother sauntered into the room to tell her two important things: one, she had been married for most of Scheier’s life to a man she’d never heard of, and two, the man she’d told Scheier was her father was entirely fictional. She’d made him up. Those two big lies were the start, but not the end; it took dozens of smaller lies to support them, and by the time she was done she had built a farcical, half-true life for the two of them, from fake social security number to fabricated husband.
One hot July day twenty years later, Scheier receives a voicemail from Adult Protective Services, reporting that Judith has stopped paying rent and is refusing all offers of assistance. That call is the start of a shocking journey that takes the Scheiers, mother and daughter, deep into the cascading effects of decades of lies and deception.
Never Simple is the story of learning to survive—and, finally, trying to save—a complicated parent, as feared as she is loved, and as self-destructive as she is adoring.
An acclaimed writer goes searching for the truth about her wildly unconventional Southern family—and finds that our obsession with ancestors opens up new ways of seeing ourselves.
“A roadmap for all of us who long to understand, at the deepest level, where we come from.”—Dani Shapiro, author of Inheritance
ONE OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED BOOKS OF 2022—Oprah Daily, Time, Esquire, The Millions, The Week, Thrillist, She Reads, Lit Hub, BookPage
Maud Newton’s ancestors have vexed and fascinated her since she was a girl. Her mother’s father, who came of age in Texas during the Great Depression, was said to have married thirteen times and been shot by one of his wives. Her mother’s grandfather killed a man with a hay hook and died in an institution. Mental illness and religious fanaticism percolated through Maud’s maternal lines back to an ancestor accused of being a witch in Puritan-era Massachusetts. Maud’s father, an aerospace engineer turned lawyer, was an educated man who extolled the virtues of slavery and obsessed over the “purity” of his family bloodline, which he traced back to the Revolutionary War. He tried in vain to control Maud’s mother, a whirlwind of charisma and passion given to feverish projects: thirty rescue cats, and a church in the family’s living room where she performed exorcisms.
Their divorce, when it came, was a relief. Still, the meeting of her parents’ lines in Maud inspired an anxiety that she could not shake, a fear that she would replicate their damage. She saw similar anxieties in the lives of friends, in the works of writers and artists she admired. As obsessive in her own way as her parents, Maud researched her genealogy—her grandfather’s marriages, the accused witch, her ancestors’ roles in slavery and genocide—and sought family secrets through her DNA. But immersed in census archives and cousin matches, she yearned for deeper truths. Her journey took her into the realms of genetics, epigenetics, and the debates over intergenerational trauma. She mulled over modernity’s dismissal of ancestors along with psychoanalytic and spiritual traditions that center them.
Searching, moving, and inspiring, Ancestor Trouble is one writer’s attempt to use genealogy—a once-niche hobby that has grown into a multi-billion-dollar industry—to expose the secrets and contradictions of her own ancestors, and to argue for the transformational possibilities that reckoning with our ancestors offers all of us.
About the Authors
Liz Scheier is a former Penguin Random House editor who worked in publishing and content development for many years, including at Barnes & Noble.com and Amazon. She writes book reviews and feature articles for Publishers Weekly. She is now a product developer living in Washington, D.C., with her husband, two small children, and an ill-behaved cat. Never Simple is her first book.
Maud Newton has written for The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, The New York Times Book Review, and Oxford American. She grew up in Miami and graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in English and law.
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This gripping and darkly funny memoir “is a testament to the undeniable, indestructible love between a mother and a daughter” (Isaac Mizrahi).
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“Extraordinary and wide-ranging . . . a literary feat that simultaneously builds and excavates identity.”—The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)