A United Nations staffer and novelist meditates on the question of “how…the life we live relate[s] to lives we might have lived or ought to have lived.”
When Browner (Everything Happens Today, 2011, etc.) turned 50, “thoughts of the road not taken” began to weigh on his mind. He had lived a bohemian lifestyle and committed himself to pursuing literary greatness throughout most of his 20s. But as he neared 30, he found himself drifting into what became a successful career as an international civil servant. In this collection of seven essays, Browner takes a critical look at his existential malaise as well as the motivations and choices that have defined his life. He examines the romanticism and self-involvement that governed his youthful thinking and caused him to scorn what Roger Shattuck called “recognized channels of accomplishment.” A strong but unacknowledged need for the familial tranquility the author did not have in childhood guided him toward a more conventional life as a husband, father, and provider. Writing became a secondary pursuit, but its presence in his life and the unlived possibilities it seemed to suggest haunted him. Literarily informed and philosophically engaged, Browner’s essays are infused with a rueful ambivalence as well as an all-too-human longing for possible pasts and futures. Yet in no way does he regret his choices. Maturity has allowed the author to see that at any given point, “there is not one future ahead of us, but multiple futures.” Creating alternate storylines for our lives is really about “creating a universe that will allow us to be our best selves.” Since choices have consequences, finding happiness means accepting those consequences as part of a process of personal growth. As for the conflicts that arise as we distinguish between what we need and what we desire and then prioritize them, they are what ultimately “give the game its tension” and make life meaningful.
A searching, occasionally profound collection/memoir.