“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?