Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'Leaving Before the Rains Come': The Life and Death of a Marriage

Yes, I'm reviewing a memoir, Alexandra Fuller's "Leaving Before the Rains Come" (Penguin Press, a member of the Penguin Group (USA), 272 pages, $26.99). Readers of my reviews know -- or should know -- how conflicted I am about memoirs -- something I've commented about in the past.

To refresh my memory -- as well as providing background for my memoir-phobia/philia, I retrieved an excerpt from my Jan. 18, 2013 review of "Diary of a Stage Mother's Daughter" (http://www.huntingtonnews.net/53923?format=print):

In my review of Kambri Crews' "Burn Down the Ground" (link:

http://www.huntingtonnews.net/24553) I wrote: "For a book reviewer who has been vocal about his distaste for memoirs, I'm also aware that a powerful mysterious force draws me to this literary form. I searched the websites where my reviews appear and I discovered that I've read and reviewed many memoirs. I missed Jeannette Walls' bestselling 2005 memoir, "The Glass Castle," partially set in southern West Virginia. Perhaps my dislike of the literary form was in reaction to the faked memoirs of James Frey ("A Million Little Pieces" published in 2003) and Margaret B. Jones -- really Margaret Seltzer, a middle-class white woman from the San Fernando Valley pretending to be a mixed-race L.A. ghetto dweller in "Love and Consequences" (2008). For a list of the top 10 fake memoirs -- including these two -- click: http://listverse.com/2010/03/06/top-10-infamous-fake-memoirs/. The site includes at least two fake Holocaust memoirs and gives a capsule account of each book. The Wikipedia entry on faked memoirs --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fake_memoirs -- uses the phrase "misery lit" to describe this literary genre.

In a telephone conversation from her cabin in New York state's Catskill Mountains Kambri Crews told me that Walls' memoir was one of the inspirations for her book. Kambri Crews and Jeannette Walls both managed to find their new lives and careers in New York City."

Coincidentally enough -- or maybe it's not a coincidence -- native Californian Melissa Francis -- often credited as "Missy" -- also found salvation in New York City, where she now lives and practices her second career as a television journalist, hosting two daily business shows on the Fox Business Network. She lives in NYC with her husband Wray T Thorn and their two young boys.

From the start, Melissa Francis's story grabbed hold of me and wouldn't let go until I was finished reading it. In that respect it was a lot like Melissa's mother and her violent mood swings. Melissa and her older sister Tiffany were each separately ordered out of their mom's car and left by the side of the street in the San Fernando Valley as punishment for real or imagined sins. They were later retrieved, but the shame must have been extreme to two children who wondered what they did wrong.

The publisher's description of Mrs. Francis describes her as "neurotic". I'd go for "psychotic" in a San Fernando Valley minute. Melissa's description of how their mom took their neighbor's dog Coco from their Porter Ranch neighborhood and dropped her off at a pound in Simi Valley was particularly appalling to the reviewer who was a resident of the west San Fernando Valley from 1977 to 1992: Simi Valley is a long way from Porter Ranch and Coco, stripped of her ID collar, was doomed, Melissa writes.

                                                    * * *

Alexandra Fuller was born in England in 1969. She moved with her family to a farm in Rhodesia -- now Zimbabwe -- in 1972 and later lived in Zambia, then Malawi, and back to Zambia. 

In previous books -- including her 2001 memoir of growing up in Rhodesia, Zambia and Malawi " Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight" --Fuller has written about her family's experiences in southern Africa. "Leaving Before the Rains Come" incorporates some of this material, but essentially it's about the disintegration of her marriage to American adventurer  Charlie Ross.

When Charlie Meets Alexandra -- called Bobo by her family -- is worthy of a Hollywood romantic comedy. She was 22, in her last year majoring in English at a Canadian college, when she met the handsome American at a polo match in Zambia.

"When I  told people in the States that Charlie and I met playing polo in Zambia," she writes, "it took me a while  to understand  why they reacted the way they did. Then I went to a polo match in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and saw the Texan patrons with  their five-goal-apiece Argentinian professionals, riding their matching strings of ponies with their color-coordinated bandages and custom saddle blankets. After that I would always add, 'Which sounds more glamorous than it really was.'"

The financial crisis of 2008 contributed to the meltdown of their marriage, but Fuller's writing reveals that financial problems were only part of the problem with the marriage. More than this I won't reveal; read the book and discover what a wonderful writer Alexandra Fuller is.