“Bam! I start, the dogs leap up. The windows rattle. The whole house shakes.”
As Dani Shapiro’s memoir begins, the author, warm and toasty in her office spies her husband “in the dead of winter, in the driveway wearing nothing but a white terry-cloth bathrobe, his feet stuffed into galoshes.” Readers perk up when they notice he is carrying a rifle pointed at their roof. Though her memoir is not particularly explosive, we are caught up in the narrative immediately as Shapiro notices M. squeezing the trigger. “Bam! I start, the dogs leap up. The windows rattle. The whole house shakes.”
Dani Shapiro’s marriage memoir (2017) published five years ago, chronicles her eighteen-year marriage to Michael, her spouse whom she refers to simply as M.
She asks the questions that surely arise during the course of a marriage or any other long-term relationship:
- How do we make lifelong commitments in the face of identities that are constantly shifting?
- What happens to love in the face of the unexpected, in the face of disappointment and the need to compromise?
- How do we wrest beauty from imperfection?
The accidents of fate and the lessons of experience can transform marriage. Such is the implied claim of memoirist and novelist, Dani Shapiro in this 2017 marriage memoir Hourglass: Time, Memory, and Marriage. She expands this thesis as she shares the disappointments, disillusions and triumphs of her life with husband Mike, whom she steadfastly refers to as M. in this memoir. Having read much of her previous work, most of it etched with biography, I was aware of the car accident, fatal to her father, the various affairs, some risky and dangerous, that may have enabled her at long last to savor the experience of a solid commitment.
Like in her other works, Shapiro reflects on several authors, both old and new to her, who have influenced her writing: Grace Paley, writing instructor at Sarah Lawrence and Columbia University, and Wendell Berry, author of The Country of Marriage from whom Shapiro draws fresh inspiration.
As Publishers Weekly points out, she “beautifully weaves together her own moving language and a commonplace book’s worth of perfect quotes.” In opening the door to her marriage, Shapiro invites readers to examine their own vulnerabilities and the effects of time and memory upon their ever-shifting relationships.
If you are a lover of quotes, her memoir is peppered with some good ones:
Wendell Berry: In his essay On Poetry and Marriage who affirms that “The meaning of marriage begins in the giving of words. We cannot join ourselves to one another without giving our word.” His wisdom also extends to his poem, The Country of Marriage. I value his words for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that Berry himself is a farmer who has created a fictional rural community called Port William in Kentucky, in which he extolls love, faithfulness and integrity.
Shapiro also quotes Annie Truitt, who imparts wisdom to everyone whether married, single, divorced, or widowed: “My life has accumulated behind my back while I was living it, like money in the bank, and I am receiving its accruement.”
In my own case, the hourglass suggested by Dani Shapiro’s title would have to be upended to reverse the flow: More grains have sifted through the globe than remain.
Everything that’s come to pass is sand inside the hourglass. . .
I also wrote about Shapiro’s journey into DNA testing with her 2019 book, Inheritance. You can read it HERE.
My Memoir Minute
C. is continuing to stretch himself to learn the many facets of InDesign, the program design masters use to layout books. YouTube tutorials, the Adobe InDesign manual, and my Web guy have assisted. Still, formatting a book with lots of variables involves a steep, uphill climb with a huge learning curve, a critical step in bringing to life My Checkered Life: A Marriage Memoir.
Have you read any of Dani Shapiro’s books, novels or non-fiction?
What questions can you add to Dani Shapiro’s in this post?
Good morning, Marian! I remember you like Dani Shapiro’s work very much. I still have not read her books, though I’ve heard her interviewed on Fresh Air. Is this book formatting different from your previous one? I admire you both for undertaking it. I sounds like so much work!
Good morning to you too, Merril. The book formatting is the same as for Mennonite Daughter. However, Cliff decided that he wanted to do it instead of tweaking someone else’s work. You’re right: It’s a huge amount of work. The bonus for me is that in this stage, I can just walk back to his office to make a change or suggestion instead of taking care of it remotely. Thanks for asking. 😀
You’re very welcome. You and Cliff make a great team! 🙂
I haven’t read Dani’s books, but my immediate question is what happened five minutes after she discovered her husband outside with the rifle? How do you talk to someone who is having an episode like that?
Beautiful cover! It’s been many years since I used InDesign. We used to use that at a previous job.
The author uses the rifle as a hook to engage the reader. About seven pages in, Dani divulges the fact that her husband was taking aim at a woodpecker that was destroying the siding on their house, sustaining the suspense.
Cliff is a digital immigrant, if you get my drift, so using such a layout program has been way out of his comfort zone. Besides, my web guy says the InDesign programmers update the design quite often, making YouTube tutorials obsolete mighty fast. Still, he says the end is in sight: Then, more editing! Thanks for your input, and best wishes for a full recovery! 😀
That was my question, too!
Dani’s memoir sounds very interesting and intriguing. Those opening lines have me hooked! Looks like you and Cliff are making steady progress with My Checkered Life. It’s a crazy amount of work. When I saw the photo of the computer, I was going to ask if you use InDesign, as that’s what it looked like. But the question was answered by your caption. Almost there, Marian!!
Yes, Cliff’s brow is less furrowed today. In a few days, he’ll meet with my web guy to iron out a few persistent problems with layout. Thanks for our encouraging words, Liesbet. I guess neither of us likes the status quo for very long and like to live “on the edge”–ha! I’m looking forward for more posts from Colombia. 😀
It sounds like you are making headway on your next book. Good for you! That is a grand first line in Dani Shapiro’s book.
Like you and other wise authors, Shapiro knows you have to grab the reader’s attention from the very beginning. If you check my reply to L. Marie above, you’ll see the reason for firing the rifle was more benign than murderous. Thanks, Darlene! 😀
Kudos to C for doing your book layout! I’d rather have your job on your book than his but he’s got to be pushing the activity in his brain! I am happy to learn about this author–not familiar with her work but the memoir sounds fascinating. Blessings.
Melodie, you know the publishing industry from the inside out, so you understand the degree of skill for using layout programs. Cliff had some knowledge of InDesign at the outset, but he had no idea the challenges he would face. He persisted because he wanted to personalize the layout, using font styles and formatting that would fit the theme. Also, as you know from reading the manuscript, he gets bored with routine and likes to try new things. I think now, he is “cured” of needing to use his experimental side for a while.
Dani Shapiro book is a short one. I think you’d like her writing style. 😀
I’m not familiar with Dani Shapiro’s work. I don’t read a lot of memoir (present company excepted, of course!). I’m glad to see that My Checkered Life is coming along nicely.
I am happy to have you as one of my cheering companions. You know very well the rigors of bringing anything creative to life. Thanks so very much, Liz! 😀
Anxiously awaiting your new book!
It’s in the oven right now, Sarah. I will make details about the launch available very soon. Thanks for asking! 😀
Marian, I love the imagery of our life events as “sand inside the hour glass.” Like yours, most of the sand in my hour glass is at the bottom! Right now I’m sifting through the sand, dredging up memories of Christmases past! The song about the hour glass is lovely!
Elfreida, I like how you extend the metaphor of sand sifting through an hourglass. You are a wonderful curator of family history too, giving those sweet grandchildren a store of memories to cherish along with a firm foundation for living. Thank you! 😀
I have read articles by Dani Shapiro, as well as her book INHERITANCE that relates how DNA testing made her discover that her dad was not her biological father. Shapiro’s writing is sharp and she sure knows how to use her family for fodder. (Not sure if that’s the correct word to use here, but it seems like it.) Dani Shapiro is in the memoir style of thinking a LOT about oneself, and how others change/affect your life.
As you know, I’m really looking forward to YOUR marriage memoir. What Clif is doing here, though – ugh, the thought of it gives me a headache. So much work! But I know he is up to the task.
Yes, author Dani Shapiro is analytical and sharp (nice pun there!). I did write a blog post about her INHERITANCE shortly after it came out: https://marianbeaman.com/2019/02/13/my-heritage-dna-dani-shapiro/
I’m doing the usual energy-sucking edits and revisions. But, you are right, Cliff’s work is beyond taxing. Today he started to smile though and said, “I’m beginning to see the end of this.” I’ll let him know you think he is “up to the task.” Thank you, Pam! 😀
Looking forward to having your book come out of the oven. I know it will be absolutely delicious!
Thanks for your optimism and good wishes. So appreciated, Rebecca! 😀
We often hear that the opening pages of books should grab our attention. Mission accomplished here.
Meanwhile, I’m very excited for you as you continue to move closer toward your publishing goal. Having followed you for quite some time, I know you’re not the type of person to take shortcuts.
Hi, Pete! It’s funny how writing progresses. In January I was convinced my book should be about my aunt’s teenage diary. In early spring I decided to compile selected blog posts, an idea I’m glad my readers nixed. Then in August, a developmental editor suggested a totally different tactic: write a marriage memoir. That idea struck a chord with readers, so here I am in December now, trying to tie up the loose ends. You are perceptive, my friend, I want the book to be the best it can be. Thanks heaps for cheering me on every step of the way. 😀
Not being an avid memoir reader I haven’t read Dani Shapiro’s work…but my interest was piqued as to what happened given the beginning 🙂
Welcome, Carol! The author uses the rifle shot as a hook to engage the reader. About seven pages in, Dani divulges the fact that her husband was taking aim at a woodpecker that was destroying the siding on their house, sustaining the suspense. Thanks for commenting! 😀
HI Marian, this sounds like an interesting memoir, even though I don’t recognise either of the people in the book. Well done on getting your head around InDesign. I am also using it to design my ebooks and it does take a bit of getting used too.
It’s my husband Cliff, not I, that has braved the new world of intricate InDesign. Neither of us grew up with digital technology, so layout programs, even blogging, required a whole new mindset. Thanks for checking in today, Robbie! 😀
Well done to you both. I find InDesign tricky to use, but I’m getting the hang of it now.
Thanks for the introduction to Dani’s memoir and writing Marian. I’m definitely hopping over to check out this book. Hugs x
Great, Debby! Dani is a top-tier author, as you know. I’ve read several of her books, including the much touted Signal Fires, a novel. However, I like her memoirs best because she makes her experiences so relatable. Hourglass is a short read, only 145 pages. 😀
I have not heard of Dani Shapiro, but I like how she got your attention (and mine) with her opening words. I almost always hope that I can grab a reader’s attention like that. And then your photo of InDesign gave me my second shock! If most authors are using that program, or something similar, I have a lot of learning ahead of me. 🙂 Thanks Marian. I’m always learning something new from you.
Ah, Melanie. We learn from each other, thank goodness.
To put your mind at ease, don’t worry about InDesign; just concentrate on the writing. For my first book, I shipped off my manuscript to 1106 Design, and they took care of the layout, including the tricky e-book design. It does cost to have someone else do it, and Cliff thought he wanted to try the layout for my second book. After all, he was a graphic designer in the early part of his career. However, I believe he has felt in over his head at times though he has persisted. So my hard-won advice: Concentrate on the writing, and let someone else worry about the technical stuff.
I’m glad you enjoyed a taste of Dani Shapiro and her attention-getting devices. Have a great weekend!
Thanks Marian. Sometimes I think because I worked for a website, I have all this tech knowledge, but I didn’t build the site, I just helped others use it, haha. That is excellent news that I can just ship it off, for a price. That’s a price I will gladly pay! 🙂
Have you read any of Dani Shapiro’s books, novels or non-fiction? I’ve never heard of Dani Shapiro until I read this post. I am always way behind the curve on my reading. I’ll keep my eyes out for her now. Thanks for the heads up.
I gobble up most of her books. You could say I’m a Shapiro groupie, or at least a fan. She writes novels, non-fiction, and writing guides. So far, I’ve read three of her memoirs; Devotion, Inheritance, and this one. Also, two novels: Family History and Signal Fires (just out). I also liked Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative life. She likes revealing family secrets and extending the metaphor. Worth a try. . . thanks for asking!