Notes on a Silencing

I finished Lacy Crawford‘s book this week and am still processing it. I am proud to call Lacy a dear friend and have known her since 1992. This book is absolutely spectacular: unflinching, brave, gorgeously written. It’s hard to read on a number of levels: as someone who loves Lacy, as a woman who’s seen up close how common these stories are, and as the mother of a girl who goes to boarding school.

Notes on a Silencing evokes incredibly powerfully how our lives can be shaped in indelible ways by singular experiences, how the years can unfurl from a specific moment in a different direction than we anticipated, how the past echoes through the present even when we devoutly wish it wouldn’t. It also dares to examine the structures of power that shame and silence victims.

Oh, Lace, this book is a nothing short of a masterpiece. I’m grateful to have read it and to know you so well that I felt like we spent this week in conversation – your voice comes through with crystalline strength. Unwavering. Honest. Unafraid. In “burning it down,” as you have (and as your beloved said), you’ve held up an important light for others. Thank you, thank you, thank you

originally posted on Instagram

Recent reading

In the last few years I’ve written a “best books of the half-year” post (2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015).  This year feels different, and I’m not going to do the same, but I have been reading a lot and I wanted to share some of those titles.  This is only books since I last wrote about what I’m reading, so it’s far from comprehensive.  I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading and enjoying lately.

The Glass Hotel, Emily St. John Mandel – I loved this book, which spoke so beautifully of the past, ghosts, regret, and the road not taken.

The Tender Bar, J.R. Moehringer – I love this writer’s voice, which I encountered for the first time in Andre Agassi’s Open: An Autobiography.  Still reading this one so not done yet, but oh, so beautiful.  My favorite line so far: “we exalt what is at hand.”

Daisy Jones & The Six, Taylor Jenkins Reid – A truly unconventional narrative structure which worked, in my opinion.  This made me think a lot of A Star is Born and I loved it.

Still Life with Bread Crumbs, Anna Quindlen – I’ve read two Anna Quindlen novels during the quarantine (the other: Every Last One) and preferred this one.  Lovely. The idea of making art out of our lives really resonated.  Perhaps what I mean is: we exalt what is at hand.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne – as you can see I went on a large Boyne tear (The Heart’s Invisible Furies is one of my all-time favorites).  All I have to say is WOW.  This one, about a child’s perspective on Auschwitz, is gutting and beautiful at the same time.  Boyne knows heartbreak and loneliness, that’s for sure.

History of Loneliness, John Boyne – More loneliness, in the title and pervasively throughout.  One of my strange fascinations is the papal conclave, so I was interested in this view on the papacy as well.

A Ladder to the Sky, John Boyne – This novel has a Talented Mr. Ripley feel, and some entertaining references to famous 20th century writers.

Moonlight Mile, Dennis Lehane – Found in the Little Free Library by our house.  I love Dennis Lehane.  So Boston, and he can write a gripping page turner populated by deeply humane characters, which is a combination I love.

Friends and Strangers, J. Courtney Sullivan – I read this before quarantine but it comes out June 30th and I could not recommend more highly.  A thoughtful and fun (again, that magic combo!) exploration of motherhood today, and what it means to work, friendship, and marriage.

 

 

Paperback

I am so happy that the paperback of On Being 40(ish) is on sale now, with a brand-new, fabulous cover!  I admit I like this cover even better, and I hope you do too.  I admit to total bias, but I really do think these essays are wonderful and I hope you will consider reading them.

 

Holiday Books 2019

As is my tradition in the last few years, I wanted to share some of the books I’ll be wrapping up and putting under the tree this year.  I firmly believe that books are the best gift and often give many.  Some of the books I give are seasonal and change, but some are eternal.  Previous holiday book suggestions posts are here: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014. 2013, 2012.

If you are a book-giver, I’d love to hear what’s on your list this year!

Memoir/Non-fiction:

Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World – this short book, which is an adaptation of Admiral William McRaven’s commencement speech, was Whit’s pick for this list.  He read it and loved it (and we all did too).  Great for young men in your life and adults as well.

The Book of Qualities – Ruth Gendler’s unusual, beautiful book has been one of my favorites for a long, long time (two of our wedding readings were from it).  I love to give it as a gift.

Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me – I reviewed Adrienne Brodeur’s gorgeous memoir here and have already given it to multiple people in my life.  Anyone interested in cooking, anyone interested in family dynamics, anyone who loves to Cape, or anyone who loves good writing: all of these folks will love this memoir.

Life’s Accessories: A Memoir (and Fashion Guide) – I was delighted to blurb Rachel Levy Lesser’s wonderful book, which is a delightful series of essays about accessories in her closet and the memories of her life that go along with them.  I laughed, I cried, I read sections aloud to my husband because I related so much.

Fiction:

Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi’s powerful novel was Grace’s choice for this post.  It was her school’s required reading over the summer and she and I both read it and loved it.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne’s novel, which I read at the end of 2018, remains one of my favorites of the last many years.  I’m recommending it left and right, still, and plan to give it to any of my novel-loving friends who haven’t read it.

The Great Believers – Ditto everything I said above regarding Rebecca Makkai’s glorious book.

Children and Other:

How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems – Randall Monroe – I love Randall Monroe (his Thing Explainer is one of the books I’ve given most of all) and I’m excited he has a new book out.

Sofia Valdez, Future Prez – I’m delighted to see another book in Andrea Beaty’s wonderful series, which I’ve given a lot (Rosie Revere, Engineer, being the original).  Can’t wait to read and gift this.

Love Poems for Married People – John Kenney’s book of poems is hilarious.  It was sold out this spring when I wanted to give it to long-married friends with a sense of humor, and I’m thrilled it’s back in stock.  So.  Good.  I plan to read his follow up, Love Poems for People with Children, as well).

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Wild Game

“For the drama to deepen we must see the loneliness of the monster and the cunning of the innocent.” – Vivian Gornick

When I saw Adrienne Brodeur read from and speak about Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me last week, she quoted this and the whole audience gasped.  This is what Wild Game does so beautifully: evokes the deep humanity of its flawed and beguiling central character, Malabar (whose name is aptly exotic) and the profound neediness of its protagonist, Adrienne herself, Malabar’s daughter.

Wild Game is a riveting, beautifully written exploration of a particular, unusual mother-daughter relationship.  In its telling of Malabar and Adrienne’s story, Wild Game does what the best memoirs do: it illuminates something universal – the complexity of the mother-daughter bond – by diving into the deep nuances of a very specific, singular story.  I wrote my thesis in college on the mother-daughter relationship, so it’s not an overstatement to say it’s a topic that has fascinated me for 25 years.

Brodeur’s story begins when her mother, age 48, wakes her (age 14) up in the middle of the night to tell her that her father’s best friend, Ben, had kissed her.  Beginning that night, Brodeur is woven inescapably into the fabric of her mother and Ben’s affair.  For years it goes on, and Brodeur is her mother’s “confidant and accomplice,” not really thinking that there’s anything wrong with her role in this extramarital affair until during a gap year in Hawaii her boyfriend reacts badly to her telling him the story.  When her boyfriend asks “what kind of person would do that to her daughter?” Brodeur is confused.  Her reaction, that “Adam is getting this all wrong,” reveals how one-sided her impression of her own situation is.

We follow Brodeur through college and through her falling in love and marrying an interesting person.  I won’t reveal more here but her choice is at once startling and not at all a surprise.  We see Brodeur’s growing into adulthod, having her first baby, and dissolving into a tearful panic attack when for the first time her mother meets her newborn daughter.  In the back quarter of the book some of the story’s ends draw together, and we understand what happened to the key players on that night of the first kiss.  The kiss that, as Brodeur says, “marked the beginning of the rest of my life.”  Without giving away the facts of the story – and this is a memoir that reads, as Richard Russo says, “like a thriller,” it is true that Brodeur’s narrative closes with her reaching individuation from Malabar at last.  With space and years she has the perspective to look back on her mother’s behavior, which truncated her childhood and profoundly complicated their bond.

Mothers and daughters need to separate, a process that usually occurs during adolescence.  This can be painful and difficult, but it is necessary for two fully developed adult people to form where once an adult and an absolutely reliant baby were.  This individuation is complicated – and compromised – by Malabar’s choice to not only confide in Brodeur but to ask for her help in hiding her affair.  And when the necessary separation between mother and daughter does not happen, like plants that are deprived of light, growth can be stunted.  To continue with the tree analogy, it is that stunting, that gnarling, which Brodeur examines in Wild Game, and, from which she eventually breaks free.

Wild Game is a moving tale for anyone interested in the mother-daughter relationship or, further, anyone with curiosity about families in general.  It’s also beautifully written.  Both Cape Cod herself and Malabar’s gorgeous cooking are characters in their own right.  Brodeur powerfully evokes the dunes and tides of Cape Cod, a geography that’s very familiar to me, and she writes about Malabar in the kitchen in a particularly compelling way.  From the first scene, where Ben walks in holding a brown paper bag of fresh, dead squab for Malabar to cook, damp at the edges with blood, we return over and over again to Malabar at the stove.  She is a sorceress in the kitchen, whipping up gourmet meals with ease and grace and making even the reader salivate with hunger.

This is a stunning book, engrossing, thought-provoking, and hard to put down.  I have bought copies for friends and am recommending it to everyone I talk to.  I couldn’t recommend Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me more highly.