A writer and former violist examines the delicate divide between giving up on a dream and moving forward.
When she was 11, Friedman (The Good Girl's Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure, 2011) attended summer camp at the prestigious Interlochen Center for the Arts, which “stoked…an ambition to achieve musical greatness.” Years later, she abandoned the musical path she’d thought would propel her to glory and turned to writing. Dismayed by her “failed potential,” she interviewed her Interlochen classmates to learn where their ambitions led. Conversational anecdotes, memories, popular science, research on creativity, and a medley of quotes from Joan Didion, J.K. Rowling, and others form an intriguing, sometimes-indulgent exploration of talent and expectation. Why some people combine ability, luck, grit, and opportunity to break away from the pack while others quit remains unanswerable, but Friedman explores the topic with an appealing mix of trepidation and curiosity. Once a fan of the myth that true "art monsters" are single-minded individuals who sacrifice everything for the sake of mastery, the author encountered adults whose quieter pursuits challenged her conception of contentment. From a high school music teacher who balances creativity with family life to a scriptwriter who doesn’t equate the time he spends working with what he gets in return to a dancer-turned–Pilates instructor, her classmates paint a mature alternative to the winner-take-all view of a fruitful life. Though they often dwell on self-criticism, Friedman’s reflections on her own zigzagging journey are striking and raw. The author chronicles familiar doubts and daydreams on alternative futures with a bemused tone that changes over time. Sections on social media's tendency to fuel comparisons add tension to already heavy ideals. When the author finds that an ordinary life after a precocious start is fine, it’s anticlimactic but palpably relieving.
For creative types, Friedman takes the pressure off, redefining success in more ways than reaching the limelight.