Review: The Imposter’s Daughter, Laurie Sandell

Throughout her childhood, Laurie Sandell’s father would enrapture her with stories of his brilliant, varied, and successful life: top grades at the best universities, meetings with Henry Kissinger to advise on policy, multiple awards for valor in the Vietnam War. As an adult, she spun through years of dysfunction and uncertainty before becoming an interviewer of celebrities. But Sandell also begins to learn things about her father that make it clear he isn’t, and never was, the person he claimed to be.

Cover report: Same cover in England and America. I like it!

To begin with the good things about The Imposter’s Daughter (affiliate links: Amazon, B&N, Book Depository): It’s a fascinating portrayal of the way Sandell’s father’s dishonesty permeated her life. As a little girl, Sandell is told that she’s her father’s favorite, and you can see that she’s subconsciously fighting hard to hang onto that designation. She sits at his feet and listens to his stories, always trying to get him to keep talking–a habit that serves her well when she gets a job as a celebrity interviewer. But as happy as little Laurie’s relationship with her father appears to be, her cartoons from the time (reproduced in the book) make it obvious that she knew more than she knew she knew.


Sandell is funny and insightful, and she doesn’t spare herself any more than she spares her father. Her years of listening to crazy stories from her father have given her a wonderful taste for the absurd, and it comes out in the writing and the art.


She also addresses head-on the concern that I always bring up when I’m reviewing family memoirs, which is her family’s response to what she’s doing. Prior to writing this book, Sandell published an anonymous article that discussed her father’s insane lies and the effect they had on her. Her father was predictably outraged, cutting off contact with Sandell, and her mother and sisters were angry too. Rather than engaging with Sandell about what she had found out, they clearly wished that she would just stop talking about it. Sandell includes these reactions in The Imposter’s Daughter, which didn’t alleviate my discomfort with the Family Memoir as a genre (it’s not alleviate-able — Family Memoirs are an uncomfortable genre), but at least acknowledged the inevitability of its presence. I couldn’t help wondering what a piece of life writing by Sandell’s mother or sisters would look like: How do they tell their father’s story to themselves? Or do they steer clear of it in their minds, as Sandell seems to think?

For all the positives, though, The Imposter’s Daughter ends up feeling more like a therapy session than like a story that needed to be told. Jennifer Finney Boylan, whose book She’s Not There I am going to read and review later this month (I hope), was born to write stories; she can take four disparate events in her life and weave them into something that feels like a narrative. Sandell doesn’t have the same gift. There is urgency in The Imposter’s Daughter: you can see that it is important that Sandell have some medium to insist upon her own reality when her whole life has been predicated on this other, not-real reality. But that insistence isn’t the story Sandell spends most of her time on, and the book suffers for it.

  • We’ve developed a strange comedy routine about remembering who was present when we did something, now that both kids are off at college, and it has to do with the phrase “she’s not there,” which we sing as a phrase from a song in the musical “Next to Normal.” God only knows how the memoirs are going to turn out.

    • Gin Jenny

      Hahahahahahaha, I love it. I know that phrase from that musical! I want my family to do that too but they won’t listen to Next to Normal.

      (Yet. I have a plan. It involves the new musical from that creative team, which stars Idina Menzel and thus will interest my family, and then I’ll be all, Oh guess what, the same people who made this also made this OTHER musical, and hey, I just happen to have the soundtrack to that too!)

      • Oh I see how it is. The Zombies are not good enough for EITHER of you

  • Is this a graphic memoir? Or just a regular memoir with some pictures in it? I generally enjoy reading graphic memoirs quite a bit and could give this a try.

    • Gin Jenny

      It’s a graphic memoir. Give it a try! (I like graphic memoirs a lot too.)

  • Eva

    I always wonder about that with memoirs too. But I also wonder about how the next generation is going to feel when they’re my age looking at their parents’ facebook accounts and blogs. Which I know isn’t an original thought at all! There’s a strange line between your identity as it relates to your friends & family and their own personhoods, and as the internet keeps blurring the line between private and public, it all just seems to get more complicated. I don’t know. I’m just glad there were no blogs when I was a baby! 😉

    • Gin Jenny

      I’m glad of that too, and I’m glad there are blogs now (I love y’all!), and I’m also planning not to post a single picture of any infant children I may have on any social media website ever. I don’t judge people who do it, but I just hate to have my putative kid out in public before s/he can even talk.

  • I read this one a couple years back 🙂

    • Gin Jenny

      What’d you think? Any good?

  • Ooh, I am not fond of family memoirs at all, unless it is funny and not hurtful. All said and done, family is family, however dysfunctional, and I always feel so icky reading stuff that in my mind is none of my business.

    • Gin Jenny

      I do too, but I also feel interested in reading stuff that in my mind is none of my business. I have a lot of cognitive dissonance around family memoirs. :p

  • Gosh I am so old and stuck in my ways. I’d read this but not as a graphic memoir. Somehow, the thought of a dysfunctional childhood told in cartoons feels all sort of wrong. But that’s just me being a couple of centuries behind the times. I will go and look up Jennifer Finney Boylan instead!:)