From the author of Mitten Strings for God (2000), another gentle reminder to mothers to slow down and savor the joys of the quotidian.
For Kenison, ordinary days were in somewhat short supply in the period covered by this memoir. She decided that her suburban Massachusetts community was too high-pressure and competitive, and that her family would be better off in a more leisurely rural setting. Before finding a new home, the Kenisons sold theirs and moved into her parents’ home along with their two adolescent sons. The house they found in New Hampshire was a run-down, 200-year-old summer cottage. After camping out in it for one idyllic summer, they tore it down and designed and built a new, larger house. While constructing a house is a process normally fraught with tension, the Kenisons’ experience was aggravated by the fact that she unexpectedly lost the job she had held for 16 years, as series editor of The Best American Short Stories. Eventually the new house was, if not completed, at least in move-in condition. As they settled in, the author’s older son, Henry, was in his final year of high school, and anxiety about college admission replaced construction concerns, at least for the author. Kenison, who writes of the necessity of letting go of one’s children, apparently had a hard time actually doing it, and the space devoted to Henry’s struggles and accomplishments seems disproportionate to the rest of the text. Meanwhile, her younger son was going through an exasperating teenage rebellion. “I am constantly reminded of just how high adolescents highs can be on any given day and just how low the lows,” she writes. “What I love most, though, are the rare and deliciously peaceful plateaus in between.”
Kenison’s wise comments on what she calls “the humble business of life” are often a pleasure to read. With repetition, however, the sweetness quotient becomes cloying.