Another true story from someone who is neither famous nor a player on the world stage, nor the architect of some planet--changing accomplishment. However she DID go through hell and back, and not only survived but thrived, and lived to tell about it.
This woman has my unconditional admiration. The story has her pushing through obstacle after obstacle, jumping (metaphorically) through hoops and all the while never losing her perspective and sense of humor. Several times I laughed out loud while walking the bike path - other walkers, cyclists, runners must have thought I was nuts.
The gauntlet was thrown down many many times by her doctors and the rest of the medical establishment and she triumphed over that one too - hilariously naming all the characters and courageously ignoring their "advice" (in quotes for this) in order to follow her own path as an overachiever in the best way possible.
The narration was perfect. Joyce Bean's tone walked that fine line between sarcasm and honest emotion, and her nuanced characterization of Julia's impaired but gradually improving speech abilities could not have worked out better.
One more thing, if you've come this far in this review - the book uses the second person throughout, a technique that I am starting to love. Like the airplane pilot in "The Night Strangers" whose story is always a "you" story, 2nd person, this technique makes the narrative sound like an instruction manual, in a good way. After all, books can be, amongst so many other things, instruction manuals for life.
5 stars all around!
Talk about not wanting to turn the car audio player off...this is a minute-by-minute account, not only of a bereavement and of a death, but of a life as lived in each present moment. I'll never know why it is that some writers, and well-known, respected ones at that, can snooze me off with their painstaking detail (oh just get on with it will you?), and someone like Oates can mesmerize me, stun me with literary pleasure with her delicately nuanced accounts of the huge range of emotions encountered by one person, as they happen, moment by moment.
I am equally amazed at this "warts and all" presentation of Oates' self-doubts and insecurities, her lack of self-belief, and the meaninglessness to her of all her considerable accomplishments compared to the loss of her husband and soul-mate. That she can get this all down without appearing even mildly self-absorbed is another feat that impresses me.
As a memoir, this ranks up there with the best. The author successfully navigates the parallel paths of intellectual elitism, drugs, sobriety, family, relationships, sex, religion, financial dysfunction and everything in between. Her writing is smart and not always direct, and her language is surgically precise. This is not a sparse, lean style - it's more complex and indirect and you have to pay attention. Things are more rhythmic and measured as the book progresses, but the beginning chapters are not at all linear. Well worth the effort to stay the course, however.
Mary Karr as a narrator sounds rather harsh at the start - but after a few chapters one gets accustomed to the "lived in" voice. It's not a nice, crisp and correct "designer" narration - but it's emotionally riveting and very well matched to the material.
I am only giving this book 4 stars because of the lengthy epigraphs at the start of each chapter. Most of them are annoyingly long and oblique, and I started resenting these passages for taking up so much space in the book. When you like a listen, every minute counts, and I didn't think the quotes did anything to enhance the story. But, bottom line, this was excellent!
Say something about yourself!
The trick to reading this very good book and not having a possible negative reaction (which is obvious in the varying reviews) is to refrain from judgements of the author, if possible, and just be enveloped in the story. Because, if you can avoid being infected by the candid and bitter details of a disappointing marriage--(the kind of inner and not so flattering feelings one usually shares only with their oath-sworn-to-patient-privacy shrink)--you will experience sensuous settings in far off places, refine your inner gastronome with exotic foods you've never heard of before, and almost taste "that lamb" as it sizzles over the rosemary scented fire. It really is a lovely epicurean trip that makes me want to lick my fingers as I recall some of the fare, and I could spend a day just conjouring up images of that castle/farmhouse, the meadows, orchards, and streams, the French ballet dancer mother with her omnipresent apron, the artistic bohemian father, the Italian villa, Rome by night--all the perfect ingredients.
The personal details are inarguably prickly; I found them uncomfortable yet brave admissions that lend authenticity to the story of this very authentic person. Coming from Hell's Kitchen tyrant Gordon Ramsay, or bad-ass Anthony Bourdain, the snarkyness would probably be expected and overlooked, like a mint leaf on mousse.Hamilton writes like she cooks and like she lives: committed, authentic, undiluted, without pretense...and that takes bravery--the kind of bravery one would expect from a young girl that can set off with a back pack and a little over $1,000 on a solo trip around the world. My opinion is that her narration lends a bit of personal revelation, which adds to the story. Glad I got around to this one.