BY: A.M. Larks

Dark Chains by LaTasha “Tacha B.” Braxton is a self-published spiritual autobiography of a girl’s journey through abuse to religious conversion. At its high point, Braxton’s story connects the reader to the experience of growing up in an abusive environment. 

We children were suffering the most, having to constantly hear that yelling and bad language influenced by drugs and alcohol through our locked bedroom door. We dealt with the trauma our mother felt from having a gun put to her face by my father. We dealt with the fear after my father threw a big concrete block through their bedroom window, shattering glass everywhere, with the brick barely missing my tiny head as I innocently slept in my mother’s arms. We were succumbing to this dysfunctional curse that would negatively impact too many generations to come.

While this passage maintains the present voice, letting the reader experience this moment with Braxton, the majority of the book is told through the authorial lens, which is a distancing voice, leading the reader to receive the events in summary. It feels like eating food that has been predigested and regurgitated.

A good summary of this time with them while I waited to see my baby is this: Some days were good, and some days were rough. I was so broken and naïve that most of the time, I felt as if I didn’t even know who I was regardless.

Which is unfortunate because Braxton’s life story and transition to adulthood is heart-wrenching and deserves to be told. However, the reader cannot garner any nourishment from a summary of events, life moments that are pre-analyzed and direct the reader to a forced conclusion.

The autobiography also suffers from a confusion of purpose and audience. Braxton wants her story to “. . . help young girls and boys who are going down a dark path . . . ,” but at times she directly addresses the reader in a self-help style that is geared toward older audiences.

In so doing, understand that there’s a difference between protecting yourself and retaliation, going out of your way to make sure someone else feels as bad as you do. There’s a strategy for everything in life, and it’s up to you to come up with the best approach.

Ask yourself:

  • Will this heal the situation or hurt it further?
  • Am I acting out on my pain, or am I speaking and thinking mindfully?
  • Am I acknowledging their pain as well as my own?

That the above strategies are sound is beside the point; the fact that they were placed in the middle of the narrative is. Braxton constantly drops out of the narrative to advise the reader on coping strategies or child-rearing. If this were a self-help book, the above authorial interference would be expected—even welcomed. However, Braxton’s work is an autobiography and the story is paramount. The reader’s connection to the narrative should be protected, not severed, by the author.

Dark Chains, is unsuccessful at its stated purpose due to the fact that the author gets in the way of the story. It is Braxton’s life that is the inspiration; the fact that she has overcome so many obstacles. But her need to set the story straight is an impediment that prevents readers from fully immersing themselves in this narrative.

A.M. Larks writes fiction and nonfiction. She has performed her stories at Lit Up at Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette, California. She contributes reviews and interviews to and is a reader for The Coachella Review. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, a Juris Doctorate, and is currently pursuing her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts from the University of California–Riverside Palm Desert’s low-residency program. She lives in Northern California.