Thank you to Trish Collins at TLC Book Tours for inviting me to be a part of the tour for Nancy L. Pressly's Unlocking: A Memoir of Family and Art! I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Nancy L. Pressly
Published May 5, 2020
While recovering from a near fatal illness, Nancy Pressly discovers a treasure trove of family material stored in her attic. Haunted by images of her grandparents and her parents in their youth, she sets out to create a family narrative before it is lost forever. It takes several more years before she summons the courage to reconstitute a path back to her own past, slowly pulling back the veil of amnesia that has, until now, all but obliterated her memory of her childhood.
In this sensitive and forgiving meditation on the meaning of family, Pressly unravels family dynamics and life in a small rural town in the 1950s that so profoundly affected her—then moves forward in time, through to her adulthood. With an eye attuned to visual detail, she relates how she came into her own as a graduate student in the tumultuous sixties in New York; examines how she assumed the role of caretaker for her family as she negotiated with courage and resilience the many health setbacks, including her own battle with pancreatic cancer, that she and her husband encountered; and evokes her interior struggle as a mother as she slowly traverses the barriers of expectations, self-doubt, and evolving norms in the 1980s to embrace a remarkable life as a scholar, champion of contemporary art, and nationally recognized art museum strategic planning consultant. Full of candor and art-inspired insight, Unlocking leaves the reader with a deep appreciation of the power of art and empathy and the value of trying to understand one’s life journey. - from Goodreads
During her cancer recovery, Nancy Pressly found a trove of family photos and documents in her attic, prompting her to put together a family history, explore the childhood she thought she had forgotten, and reflect on her life as a whole.
I love the idea of creating a comprehensive family history filled with facts and memories. I think a lot of us kind of forget that our parents and grandparents were young at one point, with their own lives before we came along. It's so important to keep these memories alive and write them down before it's too late. I really enjoyed this portion of Nancy's story and wished it had been longer. She also explored memories of her own childhood. I almost expected her to reveal a traumatic event that caused her to repress much of her early years, but that didn't really seem to be the case. She does talk about her first love and how that relationship caused some fractures in her family.
The bulk of this memoir is spent on Pressly's education, her marriage, her career, and her son. I think there are aspects of her life that many women can relate to. Pressly loved her chosen field of art history and her work in museums was very interesting, but early on in her career, she had to learn that it was okay for her as a woman to express her intelligence and leadership qualities. One big theme was the idea of "having it all" - while she wanted a career, she also felt guilt about being away from her son during his formative years. She had an intense love for homemaking and cooking and had to figure out how to reconcile her professional and personal lives - is it possible to be successful at both? Her relationship with her husband, though, is one to be admired - they obviously love and respect each other, enjoy their time together, and make sacrifices for each other.
Pressly a talented and engaging writer. The memoir flowed nicely, but although it was brief (about 200 pages), I felt it could have been edited better. There was information that felt almost too personal or extraneous. Overall, though, this was an interesting memoir, a look at an impressive woman, career, and family.