Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cut Me Loose by Leah Vincent

Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood  by Leah Vincent is a memoir by a young woman who grew up in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish home.  When she is sent to Manchester, England from her home in Pennsylvania, it is with the intention of following in her older sister’s footsteps.  From an all-girl seminary to marriage to motherhood, the author’s path is clearly defined by generations of tradition.  But you know she is going to stray from the traditional path because you’re holding a book in your hands, the type of book no Yeshivish follower, especially no woman in that faith, would write.

Vincent’s story is sometimes harrowing.  When she dares to correspond with a boy, the experiences of a first crush are endearing.  That she holds no goals beyond marriage and motherhood is unsurprising but, when the letters she wrote are found, what follows becomes so much more than surprising as the young girl is set adrift in consequence, settled into an apartment in Brooklyn, and left to fend for herself.  Watching her try to navigate a world so unlike her own, making choices that are often self-destructive and quite alarming, makes this memoir a difficult one to read.  In fact, it should come with a trigger alert (for self-injury and rape). 

Alarming as her story is, it is impossible to put down.  I devoured it and felt drained afterwards. Yes, as often happens, the final chapter is rushed, zipping into the “future” before returning to the more linear “present” of the story.  It allows the reader closure but I’m not sure it was necessary.  Still, I know a lot of people want that closure and how Vincent lets the reader know what comes after this part of her story ends is nicely handled. 

I did not grow up in a religious household.  As a result, I didn’t fully appreciate the significance of someone leaving their spiritual community—whether by choice or through force.  In Vincent’s case, especially, having grown up in an extremely sheltered community, it is hard to imagine how challenging being cast out can be.  But one does not have to imagine because Vincent candidly shares everything, without shame, without compromise.  Yes, it’s brutal to read and worth every word.

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