After the Cult, She Moved to Garrison

But, as memoir recounts, it was no escape

As Guinevere Turner recalls, her first attempt to write a memoir took her three, knot-in-the-stomach weeks. She covered her childhood through high school, although her early education was not all spent inside a classroom.

GuinevereTurner PhotobyJulieCaggiano

Guinevere Turner (Photo by Julie Caggiano)

Instead, Turner was a member of what might be called a compound, commune or cult. At locations ranging from a Kansas sorghum farm to Martha’s Vineyard and Los Angeles, The Family separated children from their parents while waiting for a spaceship with anointed ones — followers of the cult’s leaders — to transport them to a new life on Venus.

That’s how Turner, 55, spent her first 11 years, until she, her siblings, her mother and her mother’s boyfriend were excommunicated and relocated to Garrison — a place where her home life, ironically, became harsher and more abusive.

This is all covered in the opening stretch of When the World Didn’t End, Turner’s newly released memoir. The book is dense with detail, to the extent of prompting curiosity about how anyone, no matter how retentive, could recall so much of it. 

Turner, who divides her time between New York City and Los Angeles, will surely address this and other questions in a talk she is scheduled to give at 2 p.m. on Sept. 23 at the Desmond-Fish Public Library. (It will also be streamed on Zoom; see This is an apt place for the program, as Turner refers several times to the Garrison library, which she viewed as a haven during her adolescence in the early 1980s.

When the World Didn’t EndThe book includes snapshots of both the Garrison School and O’Neill High School, where she concealed her personal history from classmates and teachers. The horrors of her home life are central to the rest of the book.

Turner — a director, screenwriter (American Psycho, The Notorious Bettie Page) and actor (The L Word) — says she always wanted to write this memoir but was afraid “not that they would come for me but that I would forever be a traitor.” What got her past that was Charlie Says, a 2018 film she wrote that focuses on three of Charles Manson’s female followers. 

She had avoided discussing her own experiences in The Family while publicizing earlier films, “but to not mention it here would be an omission.” She decided to write her own account of her early life to “control the narrative” before Charlie Says was released.

That was the story she wrote over three agonizing weeks. “It was like tearing it out of my flesh,” she recalls. Even though she knew the leaders of The Family “don’t own our childhood, there was not a single person who I grew up with who has ever spoken about it publicly.” 

Her story ended up in The New Yorker, and she expanded it into her book, which was released in May. She’s since heard from many people of her generation, especially women, and others who left The Family.

Turner at 16, in a photo taken by her motherPhoto provided

Turner at 16, in a photo taken by her mother (Photo provided)

Turner notes she didn’t use the word cult until she was 22. “I called it a commune,” she says. “You’re always in a dangerous zone when you’re calling a bunch of people something they’d never call themselves. But cults as a phenomenon are alive and well. It’s interesting stuff to think about in terms of where we are as a society. I’ve found an entire, flourishing community about recovery. It’s not an entertainment; people around the world are trying to get out.”

She says what surprises most people who have read the book is that, for Turner and no doubt others, life outside of the cult was worse. “If you pick up this book figuring, ‘Oooh, a cult story,’ it becomes something different, where a controlling, patriarchal figure — a dad — takes things off the grid.”

Turner says other members of The Family who grew up at the same time, including many who are still involved, “have reached out to say: ‘Well done. You make it sound so nice. I sat down thinking “You were going to skewer us, but you didn’t.’ They may have lost some perspective, but it was relatively lovely, at times.”

As a writer, Turner benefits from another writer — her younger self — in telling the story because she kept a detailed diary. “It was something I carted with me everywhere,” she says. “I memorized it and clung to the memories. But the storyline they’re reacting to needed order and articulation.”

While writing her book, Turner returned to Garrison, meeting with friends from younger days, all of whom, she says, were “blown away. They had no idea this was going on with me [as an adolescent] and asked me how I hid all of that.”

Turner also made a pilgrimage to the Desmond-Fish, which seemed larger than she remembered it. In addition, when she was a child, “it smelled new, because all the books were new.” (The library opened in 1980.) But, she says, “there’s no way I would forget it; it was a shining beacon of light.”

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