In this debut memoir presented as a short story cycle, a woman looks back on her life and how she found moments of grace amid many trials.
These linked tales begin with an unnamed heroine, called “she” or “the girl,” who grew up during World War II. She became childhood friends with “laughing, teasing, blue-eyed Johnny,” a neighbor boy who pulled her braids but also shared special moments like catching pollywogs. As the stories continue, increasingly in first-person narration, the protagonist (her name is eventually revealed as Marian) attended school, loved reading books, cheered the high school football team, worked and saved money, and, at age 18, married John in 1952. The young couple moved several times from state to state (Florida was a disaster), but they settled in New York, sometimes changing houses. Marian and John had four children and mostly a good marriage, but illnesses both mental and physical struck the people she loved. John had a psychotic break; one daughter was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and committed suicide; another struggled badly with Type I diabetes and endured a pancreas transplant. Marian, at first forced into it for economic reasons, came to find satisfaction in employment, gaining promotions as her skills improved. After an affair, Marian divorced John and married Sam, but in time he developed Alzheimer’s disease, his death shattering her. In her book, Rogers clads her beginning chapters in an idyllic haze seemingly constructed from Saturday Evening Post covers and the romanticizing in midcentury women’s magazine fiction. But the narrator also admits that, as an older woman now, “she wants a happy beginning to a story that ended so sorrowfully,” helping to explain this section’s overly slick and sentimental feel. In the strongest chapters, Rogers unflinchingly explores the exhausting toil and mental misery of caring for sick loved ones. And, though overly repetitive when read as a whole, this part is the best way to appreciate the narrator’s emotional and artistic growth. In re-creating the past, she realized “the only possible happy ending for a story such as this: my reconstructed heart.”
An account that eloquently shows the author’s resilience through heartbreaks.