"Love Me More: An Addict's Diary"
(reviewed by Curtis Urness JUL 3, 2004)
“Dear Diary, something terrible has happened to me. And the thing is, I don’t know what it is.”
So writes Miroswava Hudak, the protagonist of Danusha Goska’s Love Me More; An Addict’s Diary. These are the intriguing opening lines of an insightful first novel. And something terrible has happened to Miroswava – many things. She is a victim of incest. Her only brother was a victim of murder. She feels rejected by her mother, by her sister, by the man she believes she loves, by her academic peers. She feels rejected by the dominant American society because of her background as the blue-collar daughter of immigrants.
Yet Love Me More is not simply a tale of victimhood and rejection. Miroswava relates her trials and experiences in an honest, no nonsense fashion, exhibiting both courage and fortitude. As the title suggests, this novel is written in the form of diary. Miroswava begins her diary to record her fight against “addiction.” This addiction is one that many Americans fight, an addiction to food; Miroswava is on a diet. It may seem odd to refer to a life-sustaining necessity such as food as addictive but Miroswava has been using food to substitute for another life-sustaining necessity that she so badly craves: love.
Love Me More takes its title from an observation that Miroswava, a former Peace Corps volunteer, makes regarding parenting in America vs. parenting in Third World cultures. American parents, she says, discipline their children with hostility while in other cultures parents and other extended family members react to misbehavior by cuddling their children. Instead of a sharp remark or a slap, they “love them more.” Miroswava, as a child, never experienced this kind of affection. Instead, she received verbal, physical, and sexual abuse.
It is the scenes that describe Miroswava’s relations with her family, especially with her mother, that provide the most moving passages in the novel. “Mommy” is the dynamo of the Hudak family. She is manipulative, exerting power over her husband, children, and even extended family members. Miroswava receives the brunt of her abuse in the form of brutal beatings and constant derision. In contrast, Miroswava’s father is weaker, an uneducated man, whose subservient occupation at a country club is a source of embarrassment for Miroswava’s siblings. He abuses Miroswava sexually. Kai, her older brother, is the most sympathetic family member but, because of the age difference between him and Miroswava and the tough guy image he projects, seems distant to her. Evie, her sister, is in competition for her parents’ approval and affection; she is winning hands down.
Familial love is not the only form of love she craves. In many ways, Miroswava feels snubbed by her academic and professional colleagues. She wants acceptance and a place in American society. That is not to say that that Miroswava is an overly needy, ineffectual character. On the contrary, she is a fighter, pushing herself to be both independent and accomplished. Still, she feels her rejection acutely. It is this tension between her tenacity and her pain that gives this novel its verve.
Three themes run through this novel -- how society treats people from ethnic backgrounds outside the mainstream; how society treats the working classes; and how society treats women.
Ethnicity and class themes are interwoven throughout this work, as they are in American life. People of Eastern European descent and people of color are the disadvantaged, the working class. Miroswava’s parents hail from Polish and Slovakian immigrant families. Her Slavic background is an integral part of her identity.
Goska, in relating the struggles of the Hudak family, becomes a chronicler of the immigrant experience, much like Anzia Yezierska and Abraham Cahan were in the early part of the last century. She especially succeeds in this area when describing Mr. Hudak’s childhood, as told to Miroswava, in a Polish American mining neighborhood known as “Skunk Hollow.” The neighborhood derives its name because it is where sewage from non-Slavic side of town empties into a river. Life there involves dangerous work in the coalmines, family strife, moonshine, and fistfights. However, Mr. Hudak also remembers it as a place with a sense of community, where neighbors looked out for one another. A person doesn’t mind when someone else steals apples off her tree because the thief must be hungry.
“Skunk Hollow was a wonderful place for a kid to grow up,” Mr. Hudak says.
Mrs. Hudak, however, is not quite as sentimental. She sees immigrant status as a stigma, a sign of inferiority. In an exchange with her sister, Miroswava’s Aunt Olga, she says, “Don’t you talk to me like I’m some dumb immigrant just because you were born in America.”
Poles and Slovaks are not the only immigrants whose story Goska tells. Unlike Yezierska and Cahan, she extends her focus beyond her own ethnic group to people from other cultures. Miroswava leaves the academic household where she was a boarder to live in Paterson, New Jersey, a city honeycombed with various ethnic enclaves. There her neighbors are Arabs, Latinos, African Americans, Hungarians and others. She also finds employment teaching college entrance skills to underprivileged students, mostly people of color.
Another important theme of the book is the abuse of women and how society reacts to it. Miroswava is made to feel that she is to blame as a child for her abuse by her father. At a wedding reception, Miroswava notices that a female cousin is showing signs of abuse. From another perspective, Miroswava also looks at the superficial sympathy that the academic community shows for abuse victims and the inability of members in an incest support group to see their abusers as something other than monsters.
Since Love Me More is written in diary form, not all of it is written as narrative. Miroswava is prone to philosophizing, sometimes evoking figures from modern pop culture, such as Mary Tyler Moore, to illustrate the challenges women in our society face. In these essays, Goska is often poetic as well as analytical. One in particular contains such Whitmanesque proclamations as:
I hunger to be met, engaged, accepted and pinned by position. I yearn for a stance from which sunsets and sunrises, moonsets and moonrises are calibrated against notched hill or neighbor’s roof, against dolmen, menhir, or power line.
Love Me More has its flaws. The character of Kai, who has obviously impacted Miroswava’s life, is never quite fleshed out. Goska also gives vague hints about Miroswava’s hitchhiking experiences, including foiling an armed rapist, that could be made richer through more exposition. At times, the teaching scenes remind the reader of those “teacher-savior saving kids in a rough urban high school” movies. The dialogue is occasionally over-dramatized, especially in scenes where Miroswava argues with her friend, Martha. But overall, Love Me More is a nuanced, profound, and satisfying work. Goska definitely has the potential to become an important figure on America’s literary landscape.
- Amazon readers rating: from 12 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Love Me More: An Addict's Diary (October 2003)
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- Boxcar Books review of Love Me More
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About the Author:
Danusha V. Goska has served as a Peace Corps teacher in Africa and Nepal and a teacher/tutor at colleges in New Jersey. She is a freelance writer and broadcaster. She holds an MA in Folklore from the University of California at Berkeley and has a PhD in Folkore and Ethnomusicology from Indiana University. She lives in Bloomington, Indiana.