One woman investigates the life and mysterious disappearance of the promising free-spirited writer Barbara Follett (1914-1939) while attempting to retain her own sense of freedom within her marriage.
As a young woman, Smith “was ambivalent about marriage.” She was not ready to take on the domesticity, set routines, and stereotypical family life that she believed anchored one firmly to a place and responsibilities. Though she loved her fiance and shared his love of adventure, she wondered if there was a way to be together and yet still remain untethered enough to avoid the traditional roles she grew up with. While working on a writing project on Follett, Smith could not help but note the similarities to her own life’s struggles and desires for freedom and adventure. The domestic life was not a good fit for Follett, either, and after months of struggling to win her husband back from an affair, one night she disappeared, never to be seen again. In seeking to avoid the predictability of a traditional marriage, Smith and her now-husband set out to see Southeast Asia for a year while she attempted to discover where Follett went after that night, with theories ranging from sailing abroad to murder. After returning to the U.S., Smith and her husband, appetite for adventure whetted, embarked on a different experiment: open marriage. She admits that “historical examples [of open marriage] hardly suggested it was a path to unalloyed bliss.” In discussing this arrangement, Smith does not attempt to hide her longing for freedom and experimentation under the guise of excuses; rather, she looks deeply and unflinchingly at her motivations and the resulting consequences. With alternating chapters that compare Follett’s life, early adventures, and relational issues with Smith’s, the narrative assumes an interesting mirroring effect. However, where Follett chose to steal off into the night, remaining a mystery, Smith decided to be seen, blemishes and all.
A bravely introspective tale of wanderlust and lustful wandering.