Chin’s memoir, Sex, Love and Sweet Suicide charts the author’s life from her childhood, living in foster care, to the present day. It’s an extraordinarily candid account of a life lived almost exclusively in transit, both literally and metaphorically. It details her battles against addiction and mental illness, and her fascination with the act of suicide and, conversely, her determination to cling onto her life.
Abandoned by her mother as an infant after the death of her father, we first meet Chin at the age of five. In foster care in New York, she is taken under the wing of both the Catholic church and the immigrant Chinese community. Finding work running numbers for the owner of a gambling den, she learns to survive in the adult world. She also has her first taste of abuse, both sexual and physical. Eventually, she finds a more permanent foster home, and is taken into care by an Italian couple, who have her christened into the Catholic faith.
Aged ten, her mother comes back into her life and takes her to live with her and her new husband in Philadelphia. Although she no longer has to work, and is provided with everything a young teenager could desire, she is also exposed to sexual abuse by her stepfather and beatings by her mother. She eventually leaves home, moving to Atlantic City and, subsequently travels across Canada as a singer in a band. After being stranded, she is forced to hitch-hike back to New York, relying on the kindness – and succumbing to the abuses – of strangers.
The rest of the book follows her as she first has a child which is given up for adoption, then marries, raises a family and moves from job to job. She also has countless sexual encounters, most of whom remain unnamed. Coming to depend on alcohol, drugs and sex to keep her connected with the living, she and her husband drift apart. While the life that Chin leads is a fascinating mix of hedonism and domesticity, the accounts of her careers in advertising and sports media make compelling reading and show her remarkable aptitude for reinvention.
The most moving aspect of this memoir is in the enumeration of the lives she has come into contact with over the years – the early deaths through cancer, AIDS and alcoholism, the broken relationships left in her wake and, most distressingly, the murder of an innocent child in horrific circumstances.
The publisher’s note that prefaces Sex, Love and Sweet Suicide states that ‘they think [the book] is all true, within the normal bounds of human memory’. The back cover advises that it is ‘not for the prudish’. While both of these statements may be true, the rather lifeless and uninvolving telling of such a remarkable story means that this is a book that elicits admiration for the author rather than sympathy or even empathy.