By Jody DiPerna
Pittsburgh Current Senior Contributing Writer
Readers who wander into Lori Jakiela’s world fall into a broken-in honesty, full of warmth and wit. It’s like hanging with your best friend, only with more wry humor, withering candor and the lack of affect which is the best of the rust belt.
Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe, Jakiela’s memoir about being adopted, the death of her parents, and growing up in Pittsburgh’s electric valley was originally published in 2016 by Atticus Books. It won the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing but, as happens sometimes in the world of indie presses, Atticus Books folded shortly thereafter and the book went out of print. It was kind of heartbreaking for Jakiela. However, this month her dazzling memoir is being re-released by Pittsburgh’s Autumn House Press.
The book centers around the search for her birth mother and all the unexpected places the search leads her. Though anchored in a specific period of Jakiela’s life, it moves in time, swimming through childhood memories, grappling with the death of her father, and then the death of her mother (her real mother, she notes) and the challenges of being a mother, herself.
“One of my favorite writers, Jeanette Winterson, talks about time for writers — that it is meaningless to us,” Jakiela told the Current via telephone from her home in Trafford. “We could stand on a street corner where we stood when we were 12. And we could be 12, we could be 36, we could be 24. We can constantly move through time like that and everything we’ve experienced is always inside of us. We’re always using it.”
Memoir can take the writer into shadowy, labyrinthine interior space. For Jakiela, that is the unique experience of being adopted, of identifying with her parents, and of struggling with even wanting to find her birth mother at all.
‘When people talk about adoption, they talk about what matters more — nature or nurture. There is so much of my parents in me I barely believe in blood,’ she writes.
Even when dealing with heady, heavy stuff, her preternaturally droll sensibilities bubble up in passages which are at once excruciating and funny. Meeting a family member whose ‘sarcasm is its own limp wet hand;’ noticing the muzak version of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Tusk’ while having lunch with her terminally ill father in a mall food court; the lime-green font of some sad, yet bellicose emails.
Not much escapes her notice. The humor and the ache are in the details.
“The parenthood, the adoption, and dealing with the death of a parent in a really direct way,” she says. “But not bullshitting myself quite as much. Not kidding yourself with what you’re doing and not allowing yourself the space to not get as close to the absolute true thing as you can. That hurts when you have to get that close to it.”
There are gaps, sometimes, when you are an adopted child; there are holes in the originating tales and myths that are filled in for most of us. We may not even want answers, but we have them. Whereas for Jakiela there exists a deep curiosity. Even the title, lifted from a passage in the book, reflects some of the uncertainty, she says.
“That’s kind of what this is about. Everything is so slippery. How do you assemble it in a way that’s going to hold? It’s always that maybe.“
Jakiela and her husband, novelist Dave Newman, will celebrate the re-release Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth and the release of his latest novel, East Pittsburgh Down Low, at brillobox in late October.