An Honest House is a rich memoir that moves through a ten-year period of Cynthia Reyes’ cynthiasreyes.com life. In the midst of a successful career, family life with children blooming, she and her husband move to an old farmhouse surrounded by gardens they love, just north of Toronto. Against this idyllic backdrop, PTSD strikes.
A car accident leaves Reyes with debilitating pain and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and its attendant depression, inability to concentrate, inability to sleep, nightmares, regimens of pain killers, difficulty walking and years of physio. The dream house becomes a prison.
In case you are thinking this is a hard luck story, it’s not. Good memoirs bring light into the world, and An Honest House beams light from every page. Bit by bit, from deepest despair to light-hearted jocularity, we accompany Cynthia Reyes as she “grows up”, to use her term.
On the other hand, it’s not an easy journey. From a fast-paced flourishing life, she is suddenly thrown into a state of virtual infancy where speech is often not possible, where she spends most of her days, weeks and even months, in bed, and becomes dependant on the care of others. One day, after months of therapy, the only way she can get upstairs is on all fours, groaning all the way. She improves, then relapses, improves, relapses.
Reyes’s story takes us through the steps that she determinedly committed to to keep her sense of self—now in tatters. She brings us with her when she remembers her mother’s warmth and wisdom in Jamaica. She recognizes the support around her: her church community, wonderful neighbours, her library, Toronto Rehab.
It is her husband who takes it upon himself to locate and present to her many stories about home and family she has written over the years, knowing they will pull her (in good moments) into writing again. They do, but then the addictive computer causes relapses, and at one point her daughter finally hid the mouse so that she would do what she dreaded most: rest. Eventually, with patience and perseverance, alternating with trips to doctors and therapists, she pulls together her first memoir. A Good Home (2013). It would go on to sell thousands of copies.
Because her style is engaging and compassionate, we, the readers, feel we are in intimate conversation with her. When she sees that the farmhouse is no longer a prison but a protector, we know she is winning her struggle.
Walking us through the many minefields of PTSD, Cynthia Reyes finishes this, her second memoir, with a magician’s wand. A Christmas like no other, with the constancy of a loving family. To the end, she never forgets to “mek joke” (as her mother would advise) to add joy to the bedrock of love. No one leads a charmed or painless life, Reyes realizes. And … well, I don’t want to give away any more.
This memoir is: instructive, courageous, comforting and hopeful. I highly recommend immersing yourself in An Honest House.
I asked Reyes cynthiasreyes.com a few questions:
DT This memoir ends with several pages of medical definitions and symptoms of, and resources for, PTSD. Why did you include this section?
CR It took me too long to understand, then accept, that I was afflicted with PTSD. The more people who understand the symptoms of PTSD and how it exacerbates pain and triggers depression, the better. I also want readers to know that there are resources that may be of help.
DT People will enjoy meeting the several characters, family and neighbours, who you introduce them to. I was particularly drawn to Aunt Rose, your mother’s sister. Would you ever consider writing a memoir about the two of them?
CR Yes. They are such strong and interesting characters.
DT I’m glad to hear that! How does it feel to be launching your second memoir?
CR It feels good to have gone back and completed a book that I ran away from repeatedly. But also a bit nerve-wracking. Many readers loved A Good Home, and read it over and over. Will they like this book? Also, I wonder: how will I hold up when interviewers and audiences expect me to speak freely about PTSD. They have a right to expect that, but I don’t know how I’ll handle it.
DT Rest assured; readers will love An Honest House just as much. It’s a continuation of your journey, in your voice, in your open-hearted way of facing fears and embracing beauty.
Thank you, Cynthia!