Elevate Difference

The Impostor’s Daughter: A True Memoir

The disenchantment of our parents, when we realize they’re humans too, is an unpleasant event of growing up. We all handle it differently. For Laurie Sandell, she put it into a graphic novel, The Impostor’s Daughter: A True Memoir. In a little less than 250 beautifully painted pages, Sandell shamelessly shows each and every skeleton in her closet—starting from childhood and ending as her young adult self—and the battles she fights to expose the lies about her larger-than-life father and form a new identity in that truth.

Growing up on the east coast, Sandell was the eldest of three daughters, and her father’s favorite. She spent her childhood idolizing him and forming her identity in his stories of historical and academic greatness. He had a Ph.D. from Columbia University, earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star in Vietnam, and corresponded with a not-yet-christened Pope John Paul II. Doubt enters Laurie’s mind when she discovers in college that her father had taken out many credit cards in her name, unbeknownst to her. With over two hundred thousand dollars in debt and a father who couldn’t give a proper explanation, Laurie hits the road. She traveled for four years, a time when she says: “I was willing to be anything, try anything, as long as it didn’t resemble the life I was living before.”

The heaviest ball drops when Sandell returns from her escape. After an evening of sharing anecdotes with a friend in publishing, Sandell agrees to write an article about her father’s adventures. Routine fact checking revealed that her father wasn’t as extraordinary as he claimed to be. She proceeds with the article against her family’s wishes, exposes the lies he told, and becomes estranged from her father. However, Laurie doesn’t get the satisfaction she expected: “Nothing had changed: my family continued to be insistently blind to the truth. I remained the lone voice of protest.”

Things begin to look up for her when she lands an admirable job interviewing celebrities. However, she continues to be haunted by her father’s deceit. She battles with an addiction to sleeping pills mixed with red wine and drastic weight loss. She explains to the rehabilitation center she eventually enters: “My alcohol use? Not much—two or three glasses a day. Of course I drink alone: I’m single.” Without fear or lack of comic relief, she shows the inside of rehab, confrontations with her parents and the ultimate serenity she finds within herself. After more than ten years of searching for peace in her relationship with her father, Laurie simply says: “I gave up.”

The strength of this book is the way in which Sandell presents her story. In a more classic format, the experience of The Impostor’s Daughter would be lost. The ability to evoke emotions (light and heavy) subconsciously through images makes this book unforgettable. She possesses a humble and often comic tone in her writing. Both voices work harmoniously to neutralize the series of traumatic events in her life. The Impostor’s Daughter is a cathartic work that will make you reflect on your own relationship with your parents. It shows us the painful, scary, and frustrating process of going from gullible and impressionable children of our parents to self-defining confident women—something we can all appreciate and laugh about sooner or later.

Written by: Sara Custer, December 6th 2009