A thoughtful memoir of the search for meaning in post World War II America.
Merriman escapes Nazi-threatened Russia by the wit and charm of her egotistical, controlling father, only to find that life in America isn’t all that her parents promised her. Growing up in New York City, she spurns the safe, bourgeoisie life of her parents and their expatriate friends and chooses the life of an artist. She smokes pot, attends art school and keeps the company of various unsavory but passionate characters. Later, attempting to paint in a small town in Spain, she leaves the risks of her family’s Jewish faith for the austerity of the Catholic Church. Her conversion takes her on another journey, as she flits from church to church, attempts to dissolve her passionless but appropriate marriage and spends time at the Grail, a women’s religious community in Ohio. Merriman’s prose is lush, conscientious and purposeful. She examines all sides of Jewish cultural identity, European versus American values, the nature of art, and religious piety. Her shopping spree for meaning is quintessentially American, and her story is an in-depth exploration of a generation set adrift between the destruction wreaked by the Holocaust and the prosperity and consumerism of post-war America. She shines a harsh light on everyone, especially herself, and she is rigorous yet kind in her judgments. While her prose can sometimes skew toward the melodramatic, Merriman never falls prey to self-indulgence or the ready-made narratives similar memoirs are so often afflicted with. Her tenuous relationship with her parents, her examination of their difficult marriage and her refusal to give up her dreams because of the sacrifices they made for her are almost shocking in light of the tragedy they survived. Her politics, especially as they relate to religion, feel hollow and confused at times, but it is the confusion of a neophyte and young person rather than the putting-on of airs so many other spiritual memoirs succumb to. All in all, her story is honest, intentional and infused with a commitment to self-exploration sorely lacking in many memoirs today.
Members of Merriman’s generation will find this book familiar and moving; younger generations will see through popular stereotypes into the real struggles of their parents and grandparents.