Hello to all my lovely visual learners –
This week I wanted to tell you about a really neat, kinda sad, but super fascinating “visual memoir” I just found called Sweet Charlotte’s Seventh Mistake. In it, Cori Crooks tries to figure out the identity of her father (who might be one of two men, one of whom died when she was a baby, one she had just found again as an adult after her mother’s passing). While looking through her mother’s photographs, letters, notes written on recipe cards and desk calendar pages, she learns more about herself and a lot about the mother who was largely an enigma to her growing up.
Cori’s mother went by a dozen names, one of which was Charlotte, and had 10 (?) children over the years, though Cori (the 7th – hence the title) only grew up with a handful of them. She was a troubled woman who got involved in drugs at a young age. She regularly used various speedy drugs, possibly including methamphetamine, and the then popularly prescribed Valium – which can increase, and likely did for Charlotte, the craving for alcohol in problem drinkers. She also seemed to like to run with dangerous men, bikers were referenced more than once – during a time (50’s and 60’s) when women did not often act out as Charlotte did.
Charlotte’s own words, scrapbooks, notes and cards were used in the making of this book. Cori asks the surviving man who might be her father, the one who she grew up believing was her father’s best friend – not a potential dad himself – to take a paternity test so she can put to rest once and for all who her birth father might be. Woven in and out of the current time are Charlotte’s words and Cori’s childhood memories retold but in a way that seems fuzzy, like a very badly aged photograph that’s gone yellow and crispy at the edges, or how a tale sounds coming from the mouth of your friend who’s had one too many dirty martinis that evening. The stories all ring true but some of the facts seem blurred and grainy, as much of Cori’s childhood seems to have been. Told through the lens of a child moved from house to house, sometimes with Mom, sometimes with her grandmother or Aunt, and sometimes with Mom and her current boyfriend, dates and ages are forgotten, and the stories aren’t always told in sequence.
Throughout, Charlotte never seems to want for male attention, but sadly, it seems she never finds the man she’s seeking – as her diaries have her in and out of love, in and out of bed, and in and out of the homes of men in matters of months, sometimes weeks. She faked cancer twice in her life – once as a last ditch effort to save her failing marriage – was part of a blundered robbery, and swindled money out of both people and the government, but also writes heartwrenching things in her day planner like “every love I get I lose because I am too stupid to be able to do or say the right things.”
I won’t ruin the end for you – but as someone who loves poring over old papers and vintage photos, this book was delightfully printed in a sort of modern scrapbook fashion. Copies of all the original photos and notes referenced in Cori’s writing are printed as though stuck haphazardly through the pages, along with lace and buttons and other small bits.
We’ll be adding this book to Jolene’s stock – and hope you get the chance to check it out when we come racing through your state!