In her brave and gripping yet convoluted memoir a simultaneous act of familial retribution, self-preservation and redemption Recknagel has the last word on her gothic family history. When her 16-year-old nephew James appears at her Houston home, seeking refuge from his lunatic chimera of a mother and neglectful father, Recknagel must confront the family history of sibling rivalries and betrayals, alcoholism, mental illness and sordid circumstances. Ten years earlier, the death of the workaholic patriarch of this Shreveport, La., family a successful wildcatter who left a $10-million fortune in a trust that favored his grandchildren precipitated a protracted custody battle over James, who was then living with the author's sister. It was a vicious feud pitting Recknagel's brother, his wife (they met in a mental hospital when still teenagers) and her parents against the rest of the Recknagel family. A writing teacher at Rice University, Recknagel rambles on about her need to "outrun their influence" in a personal narrative that overlaps with and coils into the wreckage of James's youth. After Recknagel hastens to find lawyers for James, to adopt him and emancipate him, the last third of the book charts their harrowing six-year journey toward healing. Recknagel's tale of how James perseveres in his battle with undiagnosed sleep apnea, post-traumatic stress disorder and extreme dissociation, and ultimately recovers in her care, is nothing short of miraculous.