A warm recounting of a bumpy journey to surprising success.
In some ways, Monroe’s (English/Texas State Univ.; On the Outskirts of Normal: Forging a Family Against the Grain, 2010, etc.) candid memoir reads like a country ballad: a down-and-out woman, working at gritty jobs, gets entangled with Mr. Completely, Laughably Wrong; the brakes on her pickup truck repeatedly fail; she lives in one grungy apartment after another. But her unexpected story is far from a cliché. With no particular direction in her life, she started college, first aiming for an associate degree and then deciding to go on—and on, finally earning a doctorate. Despite her father’s warning that she would become un-marriageable, she came to realize that education “makes you good company for yourself.” Being alone with her books, though, was not all she wanted. At 24, she married a musician with “faux-bucolic ideals and soundtrack to match.” After speedily divorcing him, she became pregnant by a man happy to marry her. By the time of the wedding, she had had a miscarriage and realized, too, that her husband was a slacker with grandiose plans, a violent temper, and a penchant for lying. Although they stayed together too long and Monroe had to support them both, she was determined to complete her degree and creative writing dissertation. Not only did she graduate, but her stories won a prestigious Flannery O’Connor Award for work, the judges said, that “comprised a world, an iconography.” She then found a teaching position at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, moving to Texas State University in 1992. Monroe lightly sketches her adopted African-American daughter, the subject of her last memoir, and she celebrates her happy third marriage to a man “who knew that running a tidy, books-balanced household where my child came first was as important, or more important, than my career.”
A modest, spirited, and sometimes-captivating memoir.