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On the rare occasions I am asked for life advice by my female students, my limited ability to respond coherently includes the imprecation 'don't marry the first one.' It may just be the fact that bad news spreads more quickly than good news or that, as a book reviewer, I get asked to review various memoirs and self-help type books that so often come from women with several young children and a disappeared man offering no visible support. Well, Monica Sarli's story (why does she still use her married name after all that happened?) provides further evidence for my observation. This is despite the fact that her high school boyfriend provided her with a considerable level of material wealth - more important is that he caused her to plunge into two decades of heroin and crack cocaine addiction, together with the tedious misery and squalid details that accompany hard drug use.

The man concerned, Steve, clearly exercised a considerable emotional hold over the author, in addition to the financial considerations. To the outsider, he seems to be the kind of person best avoided at all costs: promiscuous, prone to violent mood swings, thoroughly unreliable, irresponsible and selfish. There seem to be some mitigating factors: Steve is described as severely dyslexic, which can have a devastating effect on young people in the educational system when not properly diagnosed while there is another mention of the use of shock treatment at the age of 15 after the loss of a girlfriend. There is also the family issue - well, his parents are not portrayed as the best in the world but they seem to have failed if anything at being too willing to cover up the mistakes their son has made and giving him too much money. Still, drug addiction is probably an irrational career path in any case and one which, when entered upon, is very difficult to leave.

For the first (and most interesting) part of the book, the author - together with co-writer Denise Domning - describes the lives of the two upper class white kids in the drugs dens of the mean city streets and the interaction with both the authorities and the underworld that this brings. A particularly startling character is Terry Kelton, who is a psychopathic gangster type with whom Monica and Steve become embroiled and ultimately have to face confronting in a court. Given how useless Steve is in dealing with any relationship at this stage, these events reveal Monica's ability in negotiating with people from all walks of life and it is this ability that sustains her opinion of self-worth while a drug addict.

When the attempt to break free from the drugs begins, Monica is forced to reevaluate her own role in the marriage and comes to feel empowered by doing so. This leads in to the second part of the book, which charts Monica's rise into social acceptance and personal satisfaction, albeit with some ups and downs, while Steve concurrently declines into a final spiral (which is evident from the foreword). Monica is entered into the world of grown-up bourgeois womanhood which she comes to realize is the one her mother and mother-in-law, with many other women, have come to occupy. This is all part of growing up (I plan to do it myself one day but not just yet) and the story is fascinating in those aspects. Monica herself is blessed with a genteel upbringing that allowed her entrance into the world of successful interaction at the upper levels of society, although her language in this memoir undermines those manners somewhat. As ever, the benefits of a privileged upbringing bring subsequent blessings that are denied to those with more humble beginnings.

This is a curiously-written book, though an entertaining one, not without merit and one which indicates the possibilities of redemption for women suppressed by overpowering men and systematic gender discrimination (which could have been more thoroughly explored - I note that there is to be at least one more book and I hope that it concerns itself more with Monica's outwitting of the unpleasant misogynists with whom she is obliged to mix in the later chapters of Book One). What is curious is the apparently complete lack of any kind of intellectual hinterland for not just the principal characters but also all of the other characters. At one stage, Monica is describing her mountain-facing mansion as containing a 'Media Room' and at one stage Steve is said to be 'watching TV.' But what do they watch? What music accompanied their drug binges? What books informed their opinions or, at least, which talking heads inspired their understanding of the world? All of this is missing - everything happens on the surface. This is understandable when Monica enters the role of actor-wronged woman gaining revenge, since it is the surface on which she will be judged. Yet, on other occasions, there is certainly scope for enlivening the reader's journey by providing some point of entry into what the characters thought or imagined in addition to what they did. Perhaps this will be addressed in the next volume.

Monica Sarli has a fascinating tale to tell and the strength of character to put down on paper all of the ups and downs of her messy but ultimately rewarding life. This is a book that will inspire many women to believe that they too can escape from oppression and make a better life for themselves. I look forward to further episodes of her memoirs.

Reviewed by: John Walsh, www.bookideas.com

*****

In Men-ipulation, an unforgettable and moving true-life tale of sorrow and joy, “pulp nonfiction” meets a gritty love story of failure and success in this candid, courageous tale of addiction and recovery from a pasta heiress-by-marriage with a heroin habit and a heart of gold. From the drug neighborhoods of Kansas City to long stints in rehab to a dinner party on Senator Barry Goldwater’s elegant patio to charity functions for underprivileged children in the Phoenix area, Monica Sarli has proved herself to be a survivor and a conqueror of adversity. She survived her drug addiction, her toxic friends, her husband’s family’s wealth, and her husband’s penchant for getting them into hot water, so hot that they were offered a spot in the witness protection program in exchange for testimony against a dangerous drug kingpin whom they considered a friend. Readers will be appalled, aghast, and shaken by the drug world of a woman who loved without fear and never abandoned her husband, even though he dragged her down to the worst abysses of her entire life. Men-ipulation propels the reader on a reckless journey from inside a “shooting gallery” where her husband overdosed and nearly died that night but for her bravery to her recovery and her powerful presence in coporate boardrooms. Monica Sarli’s life story is a loud warning cry against hard drugs, a rally to love one another unconditionally, and a resounding triumph of the human spirit. Brava to Denise Domning, an adept and insightful chronicler of Mrs. Sarli’s life story, and brava to Monica Sarli, for telling it like it is, fearlessly. I was riveted, heartbroken, and amazed. This memoir packs a wallop. Without apology, Men-ipulation is the naked confession of a life gone wrong but a love gone right. Five stars. Eve Paludan, author of three editions of The Romance Writer’s Pink Pages, Letters from David, and Taking Back Tara.

In recent years there has been a spate of memoirs to hit the book world, some good, some funny, a lot nothing but ego stroking fluff pieces, and a small number telling a good story with lessons to be learned.

A new addition to this last group has just come out from first time author Monica Sarli.

New to the literary world she may be but Ms Sarli has a tale to tell and tell it she does with no holds barred. A warning, this book is not for the faint of heart. However, the prologue should winnow out those folks very quickly.

Monica came from a fine Missouri family, met and married Steve Sarli, the handsome and charming heir to sizable fortune. Unfortunately, Steve also had addictions to alcohol and drugs. Monica soon found herself caught up in those snares and her main job was cleaning up after the husband she loved. Over the next years Monica found herself dealing with psychopathic drug dealers, the F.B. I. and going in and out of drug programs.

Monica’s story is harrowing and all true unlike some of the other highly fictionalized memoirs

Amazingly Monica managed to fight her way through her addictions and other terrors to emerge clean, sober and amazingly strong. One of the strongest pillars in her recovery was her vow never to lie.

Monica’s story should be a guideline to other addicts that recovery, while not easy is absolutely possible. This book should be required reading in all drug recovery programs

This does not mean to limit the readership to addicts. Monica tells a rousing tale of terrors, courage and honesty, with a good dose of humor in that I recommend it to all serious readers.

*****

Others who, like this reviewer, find themselves taken with Monica’s life take heart – there is to be a volume two. If the theme song of this book could be “I’m Still Standing” the theme song of Volume Two may well be “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”

A reader may wonder how a reviewer could know that the people and events in this book were all real. It is because I have known the author for more than 20 years and witnessed much of it.

As a friend I can say that the only things in the book that surprised me were mentions of the author’ height – to me Monica has always been larger than life.

Bill Bishop, former reviewer for newspapers in Estes Park CO, Phoenix AZ and Topeka KS