Green, an award-winning New England poet, has written a narrative of chilling fact. Reared on a Massachusetts farm, the daughter of a violent, alcoholic father and a recessive mother who battled cancer for years, she grew up in a household of perpetual, suffocating bleakness. There were no real avenues of escape; visits with her paternal grandparents would bring some relief—until Granny administered the usual enema and began sexually molesting Green at age 6. In a few years she was mutilating herself with razor blades and at 16 came close to committing suicide.
Green has a sharp memory for detail, and her imagery sometimes has the vivid power of poetry. But her narrative doesn't gather momentum (after describing her grandmother's abuse, for example, Green pretty much abandons the subject); neither does it engage the reader's heart. And in a memoir that strives to show how the author's love of words helped save her—the world of books was far better than the one she inhabited—there is little sense of the joy of that discovery. "It wasn't enough to fall in love with language or write long descriptions of what things looked like," Green notes, and she is right. For all its words and its stories, Color fails to illuminate. (Norton, $22)