I’ll Scream Later by Marlee Matlin, with Betsy Sharkey.
Originally published 2009 Handjive Productions, my edition Gallery Books, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2010.
Autobiography/memoir, 327 pages.
Marlee Matlin is one of the few Deaf performers well-known to hearing audiences, but there are also many other aspects of her life and self. She was catapulted to fame with a Best Actress Oscar on Children of a Lesser God. Now twenty years later, she’s written a tell-all memoir about drug addiction, abusive relationships, and more.
This was a book full of surprises. I was moved by what an important part her Jewish faith has played in her life, especially how her childhood synagogue was fully inclusive as a hearing/Deaf worship space, with a signing rabbi. How beautiful that her early use of language included a rich religious environment where she was able to learn about God through her own language, ASL.
Another shocking thing was the drug use, and also the abuse she suffered as a child. I suppose the former I somewhat expected since it seems common for celebrities to have some sort of substance abuse problem, but I also had no idea that she had suffered so much even before her Hollywood days.
Yet another surprise was her involvement in captioning. I am well aware of the importance of closed captioning for d/Deaf, hard of hearing, and late deafened people as well as the benefits for ESL learners and children learning to read. However I didn’t know how big of a role Matlin played in obtaining this crucial access for all Americans.
Another moment deals with the confusion some people have:
“I was discussing something with Jack, which meant signing. That caught the stewardess’s eye. Then I watched as she became flustered, then confident. She walked back to me, smiled, plucked the menu right out of my hands, and scurried away. Back in a minute, looking proud of herself, she handed me a menu with no words and covered in bumps.” page 210
Deafness and blindness are two separate things. ASL is a visual language, complete with its own grammar and syntax while Braille is a method of making English language text readable for the blind.
It’s not until late in the story (chapter 41) that we get into the love story. There’s Matlin’s childhood and many disastrous or just not-right relationships to get through first. Finally, she speaks poignantly about the relationship she and her husband have, as well as the challenges of marriage to a police officer. They were engaged during the Rodney riots and she deals with those during a chapter in her book.
This book was not perfect. Matlin has a negative reaction to a cross-dressing customer prior to stardom, and there were a few other blips. On page 241, when discussing a role she played, she doesn’t seem to be aware that there actually were eugenics programs aimed at ending deafness by sterilizing Deaf people against their will or without their knowledge. Matlin is aware of the Deaf community and their perspectives, but is not always aware of her own implicit bias against other marginalized groups.
However, she doesn’t ever claim to be perfect or to speak for anyone other than herself. This is a private memoir/autobiography, and it reads very much as a reflection of Matlin herself. The chapters follow a general chronology where after the opening chapter, they follow the story of her life, but they also refer to future events, and are more topical than an autobiography. The effect could have been choppy and confusing, but instead it is conversational and breaks down nicely into chunks of reading.
There were only a few rough spots in a fairly long memoir. Despite the negative reaction listed above (which was never corrected) and the lack of sensitivity to the concerns of other marginalized groups (Matlin falls into the classic trap of assuming whiteness – only describing the ethnicity of PoC), she included a wide variety of friends, including some from various ethnic groups. Her brother is gay and she worked on a TV show where she played a lesbian, so LGB issues are present in this book.
Another surprise was the photographs. Most books have pictures in one or two sections in the middle of the book – some don’t have them at all. This book had two photograph sections (although not in color), but also many little Easter egg black-and-white photographs printed right into the chapters. These added a lot of fun to the story and helped the reader visualize Matlin’s descriptions.
This was a quick and breezy read. I’m a fan of Matlin’s with some knowledge of Deaf culture and ASL. But I could see this as a nice entrance into learning a few basic things about Deafness. Matlin lives in both the hearing and Deaf worlds, speaks and signs. She also is a celebrity and much of the book has to do with her acting career.
While I cannot wholeheartedly recommend it due to the issues mentioned above, if you like to read autobiographies or celebrity memoirs, this book is a great way to also pick up some basic information about deafness and American Deaf culture and add some diversity to your reading.