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Publisher's Summary

A beautiful, startling, and candid memoir about growing up without boundaries, in which Ariel Leve recalls with candor and sensitivity the turbulent time she endured as the only child of an unstable poet for a mother and a beloved but largely absent father, and explores the consequences of a psychologically harrowing childhood as she seeks refuge from the past and recovers what was lost.

Ariel Leve grew up in Manhattan with an eccentric mother she describes as "a poet, an artist, a self-appointed troublemaker and attention seeker". Leve learned to become her own parent, taking care of herself and her mother's needs. There would be uncontrolled, impulsive rages followed by denial, disavowed responsibility, and then extreme outpourings of affection. How does a child learn to feel safe in this topsy-turvy world of conditional love?

Leve captures the chaos and lasting impact of a child's life under siege and explores how the coping mechanisms she developed to survive later incapacitated her as an adult. There were material comforts but no emotional safety except for summer visits to her father's home in Southeast Asia - an escape that was terminated after he attempted to gain custody. Following the death of a loving caretaker, a succession of replacements raised Leve - relationships that resulted in intense attachment and loss. It was not until decades later, when Leve moved to the other side of the world, that she could begin to emancipate herself from the past. In a relationship with a man who had children, caring for them yielded clarity of what was missing.

In telling her haunting story, Leve seeks to understand the effects of chronic psychological maltreatment on a child's developing brain and to discover how to build a life for herself that she never dreamed possible: an unabbreviated life.

©2016 Ariel Leve (P)2016 HarperCollins Publishers

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Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

It's a pretty good book. Not the best not the worst.

I love this type of book but the writer comes off a little spoiled. She DID have a terrible mom. And she was neglected by her mom but let's get real here. A lot of us have had it wayyyyy worse and didn't have the loving nanny or penthouse in NYC. I enjoyed listening to the stories but when she starts going to hospitals asking if she is brain damaged I couldn't help but feel annoyed.
Over all it's worth a credit . The glass castle is a much better book about a messed up childhood. If you had one credit to use I would use it for the Glass castle. If you have read that then get this book bc it's good too. But it smacks of poor little rich girl.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Beautifully written memoir

This is personal memoir at its best. The story is sad, tragic, funny, hopeful. The writing is excellent and the author clearly shows the emotional pain she has endured. It's not all maudlin. The author also paints a picture of healthy adults, and children, in her life. I loved the scenes of New York, the name-dropping, and her life overseas.

Martha Plimpton's narration is wonderful and was a perfect choice. All the best to the author and her mother.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Martha Plimpton, If You're Reading This...

Any additional comments?

Martha Plimpton needs to read all the audiobooks. ALL OF THEM.

I started journalist Ariel Leve’s gorgeous, riveting memoir on a plane and didn’t remove my earbuds once during the five-hour flight and one-hour commute home. Her larger-than-life mother (an unstable poet given to fits of alternating sweetness, uncontrolled rage, and disappearance) is as alluring a character as you’d find in a great novel. As Leve probes her chaotic childhood and subsequent struggle toward trust and stability, the super-talented Martha Plimpton elevates the material with intelligence, humor, and conviction. When I am super rich, I will have her read absolutely everything to me.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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TERRIBLE -Author HIDES from her poor elderly mother

My heart BREAKS for the authors mother! I want to run after her mother, on that New York street, and hug her!!!

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  • FrenchTeacher
  • 03-25-18

Strangely written

The author writes damningly about her extrovert and charismatic mother, who you can't help but root for. The author clearly hated the noise and lack of rules as a young introvert, but the way she dismisses and treats her mother when older seems to have a lack of grace and cruel.

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  • jackie
  • 08-29-16

Refreshingly different

Thoroughly enjoyed the story and the narration. Good, fast-paced, interesting. Loved the short chapters. Struck a lot of chords with me.

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  • Danielle
  • 07-24-16

Very much recommended

What was one of the most memorable moments of An Abbreviated Life?

I have recommended this book to friends, I think that although it is extreme we can all learn something from it and understand ourselves as well as the people involved.

What about Martha Plimpton’s performance did you like?

She sounds a lot like Carrie Fisher, which is strange. But it suits the material of the book in a good way.

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  • ELIZABETH
  • 05-20-17

Relentless

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

Cutting out the Bali material, and cutting down the NY material.

What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

Most interesting - some of the outrageous acts of Leve's mother.Least interesting - Mario

Which scene did you most enjoy?

Her mother's party when Leve was trying to do her homework

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from An Abbreviated Life?

All the Bali stuff and most of the NY stuff

Any additional comments?

Would you like to hear someone telling you over and over and over again how damaged they were by their outrageous mother? Would you like to find out how wonderful a dropout Italian in Bali can be - someone who reads no books and whose most creative thought is whether the filter in the pond needs changing? If the answer is 'yes' to these questions then this book is for you.

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  • Delia James
  • 12-08-16

Deeply moving

A page turner read! Beautiful word pictures flow and sweep me away into the writers lived internal world so articulately shared for which I am so grateful for the understanding of narcissism in its ugly bloom!