"If Only You People Could Follow Directions is a spellbinding debut by Jessica Hendry Nelson. In linked autobiographical essays, Nelson has reinvented the memoir with her thoroughly original voice, fearless writing, and hypnotic storytelling. At its center, the book is the story of three people: Nelson’s mother Susan, her brother Eric, and Jessica herself. These three characters are deeply bound to one another, not just by the usual ties of blood and family, but also by a mother's drive to keep her children safe in the midst of chaos. When Nelson’s father sinks into alcoholism and depression and eventually dies at a young age, the relationship between the three central characters develops a closeness that is idiosyncratic, funny, and often dangerous. Trapped in a web of Philadelphia family – mothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents – and shackled to the needs of those closest to her, Jessica struggles to reconcile with her past and escape to some sense of a future."
+ Awards & Nominations
- 2015 Finalist for the Vermont Book Award
- An Official Selection of the Spring 2014 Indies Introduce New Voices list from the American Booksellers Association
- An Indies Next List Selection for January 2014
"A quirkily mesmerizing debut memoir about a dysfunctional family wracked by alcoholism and drug addiction. Bittersweet and wryly funny." --O Magazine
"In If Only You People Could Follow Directions, Nelson extends a message to all of us who beat on, boats against the currents that roil within ourselves and those we love." -- Los Angeles Review of Books
"Nelson is both brilliant and facile in her use of language..." --The Boston Globe
"It takes a virtuoso writer to make another familial memoir of addiction seem as vital and compelling as this stunning debut does...An unforgettable debut." -- Kirkus, starred review. Named one of "Ten Brilliant Books That Will Grab You From Page One"
“Jessica Hendry Nelson knows the power of clean, sparse prose, and her keen eye for the small, most telling details of character show an insight into the human psyche well beyond her years. Her story is oftentimes a dark one, but Nelson holds strong, knowing that saving those we love may first begin, and end, with saving ourselves. A remarkable debut by a wonderfully talented writer.” --James Brown, author of The Los Angeles Diaries
“The direction one should go is immediately to a book store and pick up a copy of If Only You People Could Follow Directions. What a great reading experience. Jessica Nelson is a genius at composing the perfect duet between autobiographical resonance and wholly inventive incident. The city of Philadelphia itself is a shady character here —but mainly this is an indispensable tale of family dysfunction and redemption. It's like being read to by an excitable, melancholy, and vivid storyteller extraordinaire.” --Howard Norman, author of Next Life Might Be Kinder
“If Only You People Could Follow Directions breaks apart the pieces of family relationships, turns the pieces around, and puts them back together in a way that shows us how love, pain, death, addiction, mental illness, beauty, rage, and compassion are all embedded within one another. Jessica Hendry Nelson has remade autobiography into an unforgettable kaleidoscope where what seems broken is really, and astonishingly, precisely the thing holding your heart together. So you can keep going. So you know what love is. You will never say "family" the same way again.” --Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Chronology of Water
"Writers with Jessica Nelson’s narrative and descriptive instincts—the sheer animal power as a storyteller she displays in this account of her American family’s heroic struggle against itself—are rare. Even rarer are writers, like Nelson, who combine those gifts with a lucid, judicious, and original feel for shapeliness and literary architecture. Rarest of all are writers who bring to us, along with such gifts, Nelson’s human insight, compassion, forgiveness, and grace." --Vijay Seshadri, author of 3 Sections
"Memory doesn’t move in a straight line. It is chaotic, digressive, and imperfect. While most memoirs force life into the restrictions of straight lines, Nelson embraces the chaos by moving back and forth in time, free associating among memories, and organizing her life into a series of essays. What could be just another memoir of a family disintegrated by substance abuse becomes a vibrant and challenging exploration of abuse, obsession, coping, family, friendship, and self-discovery." --Josh Cook, Porter Square Books, Cambridge, MA
"This memoir in essays brings to mind Jo Ann Beard's The Boys of My Youth. It’s a book for anyone who has ever been young and trying to find themselves - which is to say, it’s a book for everyone. Nelson’s punch-you-in-the-heart prose is incandescently beautiful." --Michele Filgate, Community Bookstore, Brooklyn, NY
"A stunning debut. Nelson is a writer to watch, not just for her sure-footed prose and her adept storytelling ability, but also because she survived a family defined by addiction and psychological destruction. Nelson grew up as the daughter of an alcoholic father and a mother who varied between best friend and neglectful parent. Her brother Eric is also an addict and suffers from bipolar disorder. It is no surprise that she and many of her closest friends had plenty of exposure to drugs, alcohol, and destructive behaviors during her formative years. Despite her background and her childhood, Nelson graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a degree in English and earned an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Her survival is a story in and of itself, but it is her writing that is the true standout in this memoir." --Terry Louchheim Gilman, Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore, San Diego
“Nelson writes in stark, harrowing detail about the devastation alcohol and drugs have inflicted on her family over the years… as Nelson strives to find balance and peace, she manages to offer hope that survival is possible.” --Publishers Weekly
O Magazine - Named one of "Ten Books that will Change Your Point of View" - "A quirkily mesmerizing debut memoir about a dysfunctional family wracked by alcoholism and drug addiction. Bittersweet and wryly funny." Read more.
Kirkus Reviews - Named one of "Ten Brilliant Books That Will Grab You From Page One" Read more.
The Los Angeles Review of Books - "In If Only You People Could Follow Directions, Nelson extends a message to all of us who beat on, boats against the currents that roil within ourselves and those we love." Read more.
Philadelphia CityPaper - "She layers her experiences so aptly — a blackface ewe that has fallen to its death juxtaposed with her father falling down a staircase to his own demise — and her refreshing style makes the essays meld together with grace and fluidity. At the crux is unconditional love for both family and self, and underneath that, the tenacious will to prevail." Read more.
Seven Days - "Her skill with words is evident in every sentence of this haunting, often poetic book. Divided into chapters that also work as self-sufficient essays, it slips and slides along the timeline of the author’s life to demonstrate that past and present are inextricable." Read more.
Elle Magazine - "Brutality crackles underneath every line...and the way she writes is so unflinchingly honest it leaves you able to understand that perhaps [brutality and achievement] can be equally true at once." Read more.
Kirkus Reviews - Starred Review. "It takes a virtuoso writer to make another familial memoir of addiction seem as vital and compelling as this stunning debut does." Read more.
Library Journal - Starred Review. "The best essays unfold like scenes in an indie flick, with the bad motels and boardwalks so accurately rendered...The little girl who pictured her dad checking into jail as if he were checking into a hotel grew up to be a woman who could walk on all sorts of thin ice and survive to tell the stories about it. We’re fortunate she chose to share the stories." Read more.
Publishers Weekly - “Nelson writes in stark, harrowing detail about the devastation alcohol and drugs have inflicted on her family over the years… as Nelson strives to find balance and peace, she manages to offer hope that survival is possible.”
The Boston Globe - "Nelson is both brilliant and facile in her use of language..." Read more.
Playback - "Her writing is unapologetic, direct, and full of expression. This unapologetic writing is what keeps the pages turning." Read more.
Evilcyclist's Blog - "I thought I would read this book over a course of a week, instead it took two days. I spend most of my Sunday turning e-pages and missing lunch; I couldn’t put the book down." Read more.
Addiction Inbox - "Writing well about addiction is a rare gift, and newcomer Jessica Hendry Nelson, in If Only You People Could Follow Directions: A Memoir, comes at the problem elliptically, in some cases deliberately pruned of strong emotion. This works in her favor, as she eschews over-the-top bravado for the facts of life." Read more.
Josh Cook names If Only the best nonfiction book of the Indies Debut Author List. "Nelson approached her life almost the way a critic would approach a work of literature; exploring the central themes, looking beyond the core characters, imagining other ways of being. Nelson has taken a genre that tends to be voyeur-bait and written a work of art. I hope more memoirists follow suit." Read more.
+ Interviews & Other Such
Book Trib/Novel Concept - Listen
Burlington Free Press - Read it.
BookTrib - Read it.
Vermont Public Radio - Listen.
Write the Book - Listen.
American Booksellers' Association - Read it.
Largehearted Boy - Book Notes - Read it.
Jaded Ibis Press - Guest blog post - Read it.