I really like memoirs, so when Browning’s came in with the charming title, “How I lost my job, put in my pajamas, and learned to enjoy life” I packed it on a recent flight. (It is also smaller than the average trade paperback.)
Although following a predictable pattern – NYC insider gets the boot because of hard times – what I liked about the book was Browning’s meta-writing: slow, lyrical sentences to illustrate how her life slowed down, picked up on music and gentle living, and added some herbs.
Granted, Browning is wealthy. Even though she wrote about the fear of the plummeting stock market harming her retirement savings, well, she had savings. And another house to move into that she could afford to renovate. Etc. This is a yuppie memoir.
And beautifully written. Her lazy, gentle sentences don’t meander. They are densely packed with words you might have to look up every now and then. Her observations are pithy but not concise. I found myself following her for the way she told the story, not the story she was telling. Browning is a writer’s writer.
Following my quest to find how other writers handle making the inaccessible (or at least the non-experienced) interesting to readers who don’t share the passion of the book, I read Browning to the end, and enjoyed it. If you like lyrical writing and peeking at others’ strange lives, this is a good one for those of us who don’t live, and don’t care to think about living, in Manhattan.
A full bouquet of home-grown roses for Dominique Browning’s SLOW LOVE.
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So let me start with a caveat: this is one of those books where I liked the story more than the writing. The overly-dramatic turn of phrase and use of tension and the occasional slide into outright sentimentality might turn some people off.
But, I’m a sucker for character, and beneath the lines is a story of two true characters. Laura met Maurice when he was eleven, she divorced in her thirties. They became friends, and she pretty much mentored him and helped him through childhood without doing too many silly things. The book details several practical concerns: getting him upstairs in her posh apartment building without the doormen going crazy; dealing with what people could think when a middle aged white lady takes a teen boy into her place, and how vulnerable that makes both of them; why it was a bad idea to buy Maurice anything expensive, and what happened the one time this rule got broken. These were interesting to read about, straight up and sensible.
Then there’s the story that’s not getting told – like Laura’s second marriage and her husband’s inability to encompass Maurice as anything but an anomaly Laura had going until she met him. Etc. etc. There’s a lot of story going on behind the scenes, and I wished she had told it more up front, the way she did the practical elements.
The book also moves back and forth between Laura’s upbringing in an abusive home and Maurice’s dysfunctional family. Without saying too much, it draws subtle parallels along the lines of “things are tough all over.” This is really well done.
And the kicker is, even not really enjoying how the language of the book flowed, I wanted to know what happened next. That’s the mark of a good story to be told. Which this was.
Filed under book reviews, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, Sarah Nelson, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing