Reviewed by Allie Eady
What is sin? An anomaly that has addled centuries of Christians, pulling ethics and morals into a very subjective sphere of judgement. An Imperfect Rapture is a memoir from Kelly J. Beard that addresses her experiences growing up with extremely fundamentalist parents, who adhere to the FourSquare Church’s strict set of standards. It is agonizingly painful, yet personally rewarding for those readers who enjoy delving into the dark, twisted, and outright harrowing tales of others, like myself. This memoir, which reads more like narrative fiction, explores Kelly’s youth in the 60’s and 70’s. It shines light on many topics difficult for some readers to stomach, such as addiction, poverty, mental illness, and domestic violence. If you enjoy being led out of your comfort zone through literature, you will likely appreciate this piercing tale.
Beard wastes no time at all in the opening, with the very first sentence reading “My mother saw demons.” Beard describes her mother as being a type of exorcist, whose task it is to tend to the ill, or surely in her mother’s eyes, the “demonically possessed.” Although faithfully devoted to one another and their religious values, her parents often neglect Kelly and her siblings needs due to an iron-clad loyalty to the church. An early pattern of this can be found when Beard describes being turned down by her mother to help pray for a woman who seemed to be possessed. She states, “I begged to go along. No, she said, we think she’s demon possessed, we can’t let you get that close. The toilet flushed. She disappeared into the dark.” Just one of many examples of Beard and her siblings being a second thought, not a priority. This theme persists throughout the novel, and tugs at the reader’s heartstrings. I often found myself wanting to grab the mother by the shoulders and vigorously shake her out of frustration for allowing and inflicting such emotional damage onto poor Kelly. But alas- you cannot talk sense into characters from a memoir.
Due to the fathers job instability and financial woes, the family is uprooted various times throughout the memoir. The homes they stay in are always described as incredibly claustrophobic, often with Kelly having to sleep nearly right on top of her sister. The home environment only worsens Kelly’s childhood anguish. She recognizes how vulnerable she is, but is powerless in her station to do anything to change it. Her parents general answer to most problems they faced was to turn to “the power of prayer,” which Kelly knows is superficial but stays silent and does not usually protest. Instead, she turns to a revolving door of strange new friends, drugs, and sexual exploration as a sort of coping mechanism.
The memoir is just as much a reflection of Beard’s own personal internal struggles, not exclusively the external forces that contribute to her dire well-being. She is at an awkward stage in her adolescence, and while receiving little to no emotional support from those around her, finds herself fallen into a depression. Tack on the shame of severe poverty, mental and physical abuse, and sheer loneliness, one can only wonder how she was able to eventually pull herself out of this tragic mentality.
The novel stimulates a massive sense of empathy and understanding, wanting to save Kelly from the life she was unfortunately born into. It ends with a sense of forgiveness from Kelly, which many may believe is alluded to in the opening dedication, “And in the end of it all is that I have to forgive you. I must do so. I don’t write this…to put bitterness into your heart, but to pluck it out of mine. For my own sake, I must forgive you.” A quote by the famed Oscar Wilde. Perhaps this is the strongest part of the story, because it foreshadows Kelly’s forgiveness of her parents, thus empowering her and getting vindication for the trauma suffered. If you welcome gripping tales of personal triumph, this memoir is right up your alley. Although sensitive and often off-putting subjects are exposed, it reveals a gritty side of humanity that many do not see behind closed doors, I am implore you to give this heartbreaking but conquering tale a read.