BOOK REVIEW: Playing with Dynamite A Memoir by Sharon Harrigan

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What happens when your father dies: when you are 7years of age – how does this affect the rest of your life?

Sharon’s memoir is about how she deals with death as an adult after a catastrophic event in her childhood.

Her father dies in an apparent car accident after a collision with a deer; the reader quickly finds themselves learning that her father was a volatile, violent man towards his wife and children.  Sharon questions her feelings, relationships and the truth with her family and as a result opens a Pandora’s Box of memories, with so much supressed emotion.

Sharon is very honest from the start and that was an endearing quality throughout. She questions her father’s personality and subsequent relationships with her siblings and mother.

Her recollections are vague to begin with, triggered by a conversation with her own child – Noah, a teenager dealing with his own relationship issues with his father. This leads onto Sharon exploring relationships with her siblings, aunts and uncles, unlocking suppressed memories and difficult feelings. She finds that each person has a different perspective on her father’s life and personality.  At no point though, does Sharon offer any excuses for her father, but explores her feelings towards him.

This at times, is a difficult book to read, especially as many readers would naturally relate to their own experiences, those who have had difficult parental relationships and/or losses of loved ones. Sharon appears to have found writing this memoir therapeutic, enabling her to remember family members involved, enabling her to move forward with her own life with confidence.

I acknowledge that this is Sharon’s first book with a difficult subject, but the writing style was frustrating. Sharon moved too quickly from one experience to another without always completing the explanation and at times this felt superficial.  I, the reader was left wanting more and this affected the narrative throughout the book.  I did however, enjoy her honesty and integrity.

Playing With Dynamite A Memoir is published by Truman State University Press and is available to purchase here.


Sharon Harrigan


Sharon Harrigan has a B.A. in English from Columbia University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific University. She teaches memoir writing at WriterHouse in Charlottesville.

She has published over four dozen essays, reviews, and short stories. Her work has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, Pleiades, Slice, Narrative, Pearl, Prime Number, Silk Road, Mid American Review, Louisiana Literature, Apercus Quarterly, Rain Taxi, Hip Mama, Fiction Writers’ Review, Streetlight Magazine, Passing Through Journal, The Nervous Breakdown, and The Rumpus. She is a contributing editor at The Nervous Breakdown and at Silk Road Review.

Reviewed by Amanda Brightman 


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