aprilhenry (aprilhenry) wrote,

One of my literary "mothers" is dead

I can't remember when I first read Sheila Ballantyne's Imaginary Crimes, which came out in 1982. At the time, my clothes all came from thrift stores (I remember a blue plaid skirt that looked like a Catholic school girl's - and it really must have been a girl's because it was way too short), and it was rare that I had the money to buy a book. So I probably spotted it at the library. At the time, I was probably reading three or four novels a week (that's what happens when you have to take the bus everyplace). So for a book to stick with me, to be read and re-read, that's saying something.

If you haven't read Imaginary Crimes, you should. You can pick up a copy at Amazon for a penny, plus shipping.

Here's what the New York Times had to say about the book in her obituary: "A semi-autobiographical account of a young woman raised by a father who is a confidence man. Organized as a series of brief, accumulating shards, “Imaginary Crimes” is set in the Pacific Northwest and California, in a time ranging from the 1930s onward. It tells the story of Sonya and her younger sister, who after their mother’s death from breast cancer are left in the dubious care of their father, Ray. Always looking for the next get-rich-quick scheme, Ray is eventually jailed in a land swindle."

The book was heartbreakingly honest. It cut to the bone. As a writer, I might admire the mix of third and first to tell the same story. As a human being, it's her feelings toward her father that caught me up.

In the early 90s, I wrote to her (care of her publisher, no Internet then), and she wrote back. They had just started filming the movie version here in Portland (with Harvey Keitel), and she told me how they had her write new scenes and sent her videotapes of what they had filmed. I told her how the house the main characters supposedly lived at was next door to my hairdresser's. They paid him money to spray his house with fake dirt so that the neighborhood would look down on its luck. More than a dozen years later, I still remember the thrill of getting that letter from her.

Read her essay here on how she became a writer.

Read her obit here.

I can only hope one day to write a book as true as Imaginary Crimes.

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