Like many children of famous parents, Cherington struggled to be seen and valued. Cartwheeling across the yard, she was on the periphery of this enchanted forest of stars, jealous of the attention focused on her famous father. How could she shine in such a brilliant household?
“There wasn’t much room for a kid, at least with Dad,” she tells her childhood friend as they read through her father’s old letters. “He liked showing me off and tolerated me for short periods of time, but he kept a tight circle of poets and academics around him who sucked up the air. I think that little girl is still sad.”
Cherington marches us through the years, from her family’s various homes along the East Coast to her year at a boarding school in Lausanne, where she learned not only French but also how to apply makeup, style her hair and date boys. As she grew into a curvaceous teenager, the attention she suddenly attracted from her father was unwelcome and shocking. On one bourbon-infused night, he came upstairs from a cocktail party, walked into his sleeping 17-year-old daughter’s room, sat at her bedside, slipped his hands under her shirt, and fondled her. Speechless, she kicked him away; he chuckled and retreated. Silence ensued, a silence that consumed Cherington for half a century. “Deeply buried secrets only prolonged my suffering,” she writes. “Silence is isolation, as bad as the abuse itself.”
Cherington drops out of the University of Washington, where Eberhart had once taught, and becomes a young wife and mother in New Hampshire, where Eberhart was once poet laureate. She works the land on her husband’s farm, and eventually establishes her own consulting business for corporate executives, taking pride in being recognized as a respected professional by powerful men like her father. There is little subtlety here.
At the age of 40, Cherington decides to delve into the archives at Dartmouth in search of her father’s records. Reading his journals and letters, she gains a new perspective on his own childhood trauma, when he nursed his beloved mother through her final stages of cancer. Cherington finally forgives her father, at his deathbed. Twelve years later she takes the podium at an International Women’s Day celebration in Hanover, N.H., and tells her own truth.
Both Cherington and Laveau-Harvie struggle to come to grips with harmful, even abusive parental behavior. But only Laveau-Harvie’s book truly stays with the reader, for the quality of her original and powerful narrative voice.