I have never been one to believe in coincidences; it can be something big or small, such as a moment, a meeting, or a book that happens to fall into my lap because someone just knew I would love it. Little did this person know how deeply I truly would connect and find myself in the author, Grammy-Award winning vocalist Lani Hall Alpert and her stories. Emotional Memoirs & Short Stories is a hauntingly beautiful book that opens the doors to the author’s dark side, her imagination and some of her most heart-tugging memories.
Although the book mixes fiction and nonfiction, there is a truth that lies behind every story and character. A brief personal narrative introduces and connects each story, comprising Alpert’s nostalgic memories of the city of Chicago and other moments such as the el train, a cemetery, and the alleys behind her childhood apartment that carry a subtle dulling pain in the language.
The language is easy to understand and clear, but Alpert has a way of writing without being too straightforward allowing the reader to make decisions based on their own interpretation of how things ended. In a story featuring a character who relies heavily on her therapist for self-assurance and comfort, she deals with such vivid dreams; some mornings she wakes up unable to decipher if they are real or just in her mind. From waking up drenched in sweat, heavy breathing and being surrounded by those she knows in real life-it can make for a disgruntled experience. The ending of this story left me the most in shock out of all the others as the reader has to decide if this woman actually commits a murder, or if again, it only happened in the realistic depths of her dreams.
Alpert’s details throughout each story were short and sharp, cutting deep below the layers of real people. Her descriptions of Chicago reflected her own unique perspective and avoided the cliché language and details that so often get described. The following quote is my favorite of the many stunning pictures she paints:
"The light sprinkled under the downtown 'el' tracks as if it were falling through lace curtains. Shadows streaked over unknowing faces that waited for buses or simply shuffled down the busy streets. Trees would umbrella over the side streets as if they were protecting the kids riding bikes and gliding on roller skates. Muted colors of sunset cracked through clouds that looked like bunches of giant marbles, while the sun painted a cascade of orange, pink and yellow that echoed as far as the eye could see."
Chicago clearly has a grasp on Alpert’s heart despite her desire to never move back, and it is a place I know I will also cherish forever. Regardless of the inclusion of fiction throughout the book, we all could find something or someone we know within the words and characters. I was able to find a piece of myself within them all. Although I cannot say for sure which short stories were from Alpert’s personal life, it was enough for me to feel as tied to their secrets as I did.
Having always been an emotional being myself, I was immediately intrigued by the title Emotional Memoirs and to see how successfully Alpert’s words could reach me. I was not expecting to be in tears by the end of the first story considering I have never cried while reading a book, and this collection caused the release of tears multiple times. I began reading on August 1, which happened to be a monumental date within the first story when a character loses their life to a heroin overdose. My mind immediately flashed to a conversation I had with a friend the previous day on the growing heroin problem in our “picture-perfect” town, but it only appears that way on the surface. So many things portray an image on the outside, all-the-while there is something completely different brewing in the shadows.
The loss of this loved one deeply affected his partner, and I was stuck reminiscing on my own thoughts of how I had recently been left alone in-love without a choice. I found myself pausing at the end of every single story Alpert included to reflect-reflect on the pain of lost love, on betrayal by the one person you thought never would, and on the “self” and how to get back in touch with finding yours.
As I came to the second short narrative speaking on Alpert’s battles with night terrors and her struggle to find inner peace, I felt that sense again of this book being meant to find me:
“Nightmares have plagued me all my life. People chasing me, trying to kill me, after me.”
I have never come across someone who experienced dreams in this same twisted way as I. Most just want to know what scary movie I recently watched or shake their head that it does not mean anything, but how could it not say something about our “selves” and our lack of being able to find that content inner peace? This paragraph hooked me, and I felt desperate to know more. My dreams are dark a majority of the time, and it makes me question myself, why these images are in my subconscious. I have never felt so appreciative of an author’s honesty about their own darkness and “inherited imagination” they do not understand.
Besides the search of the “self,” the exploration of the complication that is love was heavily intertwined within each of Alpert’s stories. She addresses some of the most challenging situations those in romantic relationships encounter and when they are worth fighting for and when it is time to let go. What happens when we stop listening to each other, when we stop expressing our own needs or when we are too afraid to say we have fallen out of love?
At a time when my own love I had dreamed of lasting forever was reaching a point of crumbling, these stories helped reinforce for me that love is about sacrificing, but our own happiness should never be what we are willing to give up. Those who are worth it will not allow us to do that, but how do we know who those people are? There is something about love and the ease of it beginning, but once it has become deep enough to shape everything we do, real life overtakes the fantasy. Alpert writes about a character who urges that she knows she has fallen in love with a man she barely knows and ends up realizing she was wrong. It is a cliché saying that “when you know, you know,” but do we ever really?
Relationships are ever-changing and sometimes those changes can tear us apart or we do what we can to work through the storm, but these stories emphasize that love takes work no matter how far along the relationship has come, and it is most important not to lose yourself in the process. The main message underlying in all of Alpert’s stories-whether it be surrounding romantic relationships or not-we must never sacrifice our own happiness for another. We get one life and one chance to fulfill our dreams.
So to you Lani Hall Alpert, I say thank you for sharing these Personal Memoirs and Short Stories and reminding me that we all deal with dark personal demons, and things can seem completely impossible and helpless one day, but as long as we hold onto those sacred things that are holy to us (for Alpert it is singing), the light will eventually arise at the end of the tunnel.