The extended three day weekend of decidedly unsocial, social obligations provided me with the luxury of being able to lounge around and read Kyria Abraham’s humorous memoir, I’m Perfect, You’re Doomed: Tales of a Jehovah’s Witness Upbringing.
When it comes to talking about her life, Kyria is a very good story teller, particularly adept at finding the lighter side of a life that wasn’t always easy. In doing so it wouldn’t surprise me if some events and situations are embellished for the sake of the story; however, it seems to be a mostly honest account of her young life within the Jehovah’s Witness religion. The portrayal of the religion is not entirely critical and mostly accurate. I have a feeling that when some dialogue didn’t exactly ring true as JW speak it was mostly the hand of an editor trying to make it easily understood by the average reader. (Kyria is helpful to include an irreverent glossary in the back to help sort out much of the Watchtower jargon.)
The style of the book is VH-1’s , “I love the 80’s” meets Jehovah’s Witnesses. What I mean is that it is filled with pop-culture references with a JW twist. For instance, Smurf’s are talked along with associated JW urban legends that circulated in the 1980’s about fireproof Smurfs coming alive, chucking Bibles, and cursing in Kingdom Halls. So while the humor might not be lost on someone with a non-JW background, for someone who was raised in the Organization it is particularly funny.
As we are roughly the same age and both raised in the Watchtower Organization, my life had many points of intersection with Kyria’s. For instance I can relate to the pride of giving a first Bible talk at age eight, being looked at sideways as a teenager for listening to “alternative” music, and marrying young. I can also appreciate the struggle of being inclined toward the arts and finding few outlets for expression within the Organization and having to look elsewhere. As it was growing up, if you were gifted athletically there was plenty of opportunities for congregation hockey, baseball, basketball and soccer however there was no similar avenues for those who enjoyed painting, playing music, or writing poetry.
If this were a fiction book it might be easier to write about, but since the book is about a real person it becomes more delicate. Kyria touches on some pretty heavy issues in the book such as abuse, repressed memories, OCD, cutting, and alcoholism. Her approach to writing about these things is in the same flippant, light-hearted tone as describing giving her first talk or reminiscing on the evils of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. I understand and appreciate that is important to have a sense of humor when looking at our life but on the other hand these things are serious matters that affect people greatly, even after leaving the religion. The same is true with the portrayal of the Organization, which seems to be shown as being quirky but mostly harmless. Anyone who has been through a disfellowshipping, being cut off from friends and family, can speak of the agony and hurt that comes along with it. This memoir takes it all in stride and does little to go into the deep emotional pain that comes with a Jehovah’s Witness upbringing.
As the book ends it comes to a conclusion but not necessarily a satisfactory one. While she may have at one time in her life saw herself as being “perfect” and others as “doomed”, at the end you get the feeling she just sees people as people, good and bad, inside and out. As said Kyria touches on some of heavy emotional issues and there doesn’t seem to be a real resolution to any of this. While the book was extremely enjoyable to read the ending left me a bit depressed. I found Kyria to be likeable and it is sad that the books leaves her carrying the baggage of the past.