The Perpetual Motion Machine
WINNER -- 2017 RED HEN PRESS NONFICTION AWARD
SHORTLISTED --2018 AMERICAN BEST BOOK, AUTOBIOGRAPHY
SHORTLISTED -- 2019 RUBERY INTERNATIONAL BOOK AWARD, NONFICTION
Inspired by a brother's high school science project--a perpetual motion machine that could save the world-- The Perpetual Motion Machine is a memoir in essays that attempts to save a sibling by depicting the visceral pain that accompanies longing for some past impossibility. The collection has been a science project in its study of memory, in the calculation and plotting of the moments that make up a childhood. The preparation has been "in the field" in that it is built upon the gathering of lived experience; the evidence is photo albums, family interviews, and anecdotes from friends. The project has been one giant experiment--to see if they can all make it out alive.
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About the Author
"One of the most important types of love -- the love between siblings -- has perhaps also been the least-carefully explored in contemporary literature. Count Brittany Ackerman's instantly engaging and wildly engrossing memoir, The Perpetual Motion Machine, as a headfirst dive in the right direction. Her prose is accessible and affecting, and her family story is exquisite in its luminous detail and intimacy, full of heartbreak and humor -- as simple as an abacus, as expansive as the starry night sky. I loved this book!" --Davy Rothbart, author of My Heart is an Idiot and creator of FOUND Magazine, and contributor to This American Life
A nonfiction writer and teacher's debut memoir about a loving but fraught relationship with her brother and the addiction to drugs they both shared.
Ackerman's early childhood in New York was mostly happy, marred only by the occasional envy she felt for her older brother Skyler's elaborate Lego constructions. "Life is so comfortable," she writes about that time, "so nice, so perfectly placed out in front of us." But beneath the facade of comfortable routine, cracks began to appear that Ackerman could not understand. One morning, her mother suddenly threatened to drive the car into the Hudson River. Sometimes her parents fought or behaved in ways that seemed cruel, and occasionally, her mother pushed her unwilling brother to do things like skate across the ice too fast in skates too big for his feet because she wanted her son to "earn accomplishments" and "be the best." Worse still, her brother seemed to be growing up faster than she was, leaving her to feel that she was trapped in perpetual childhood. The author's consolation was that Skyler would be there to save her, just as the perpetual motion machine he had created for a science class would save humanity when the world "stop[ped] spinning." After the family moved to Florida, her and her brother's lives took a turn for the worse. Skyler, "the 'A' student...[and] next big deal," began to experiment with alcohol and then drugs. Following suit, Ackerman began dealing marijuana when she entered her teens and then later became a junkie who got high on everything from MDMA to oxycodone. But where her brother sank into a suicidal depression that took over his life, the author gradually found her way back to a fragile sobriety. Told in simple, spare language, Ackerman's story is powerful not only for the story it tells, but also for the eloquent silences and chronological ruptures that symbolize the painfully fractured nature of her life and that of her brother.
A brief but poignant memoir.