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The Last of Her — A Review
By Erynn Porter
When I first looked at the cover for The Last of Her by Kim Dana Kupperman I wondered what a forensic memoir was. I was familiar with memoirs, one of my favorite types of book to read, and I was somewhat familiar with forensics due to my love of crime shows. I was curious as to how the two would mesh to tell a story and if I would enjoy it.
Kupperman struggles with the concept of truth in this memoir, as any writer that works in nonfiction does. The specific issue here is that Kupperman is trying to tell her mother’s, Dolores' story and Dolores never told the truth. She told tales, spun things to go her way, and flat out lied to everyone. She claimed to hung out with Marilyn Monroe, had an affair with Frank Sinatra and John F. Kennedy and truly believes her own lies. Her lying got to the point where Kupperman thought Dolores’ suicide was another one of her mini-dramas—wondering how much she paid the porter to call her and how she had the money to hire so many actors to play EMTS and police officers.
Kupperman can’t find the truth without some help and that’s where the forensic aspect comes in. Kupperman gathers documents from throughout Dolores’ life, from divorce recordings to court documents detailing crimes that Dolores committed, Kupperman goes through them all to try to find out who her mother is. The very beginning of the book, the preface opens with the nineteen-page suicide note Dolores left Kupperman. Instead of being a heartfelt last words, the letter is a set of detailed instructions concerning renovations to her apartment, why Kupperman should live there, what to tell the attorney that’s handling her fraud case, and what to tell the lawyer handling her will. To the attorney, Kupperman is Dolores’ sister; to the lawyer, her daughter. The only personal aspect is summed up in five lines, leaving the reader to realize the distance these women share. Kupperman manages the perfect balance and shock that covers this section.
Kupperman doesn’t just stick to the dry facts of the documents to tell her mother’s tale. There is a beautiful scene where Kupperman is reading the coroner’s report about Dolores’ body and letting the scars tell the tale there. “Scars detected during the examination tell other stories about my mother’s body: That she had had a facelift. Silicone breast implants. A C-section when I was born. A stomach operation. Three significant scars of the vertebral region confirm her stories of spinal surgery, stories I disdained and hardly believed when I came of age…” This is report becomes incredibly intimate in Kupperman’s hands and makes Dolores feel so much more human.
For The Last of Her truth comes in many formats: saved voicemails, testimonies from family, letters, court documents, and scars across Dolores’ body. What Kupperman does with these truths is organize them into a narrative of her mother that she can understand. Kupperman doesn’t allow the documents tell the whole story, she inserts her questions of the thoughts running through Dolores’ mind as she made the choices she made throughout her life. Kupperman ponders the suicide, trying to capture the meticulous thought process of her mother, down to making sure to give her dog a new home before going. Kupperman thinks about what she could have done, what she could have said to somehow stop her mother from making that final choice. That’s where the human element comes in, the element that makes memoirs so interesting, it’s the constantly wondering about and against the truth and knowing that there are never any concrete answers.