A nonfiction-writing professor muses on the random occurrences that led to his parents’ troubled marriage and its subsequent effects on his own trajectory.
Root (Limited Sight Distance: Essays for Airwaves, 2013, etc.) ambles along a winding road that begins with the unlikely romance between his mother, Marie, a vivacious young woman focused on marriage and movie stars, and his father, Bob, a quiet, industrious man. A mere two months after the marriage, Bob entered the Marine Corps to fight in World War II, an event that changed the Root family forever. Despite her devout Catholic heritage, Marie, feeling lonely and abandoned, had an affair that resulted in pregnancy; although this infidelity fractured the fledgling marriage, Bob agreed to raise another man’s daughter as his own. Marie favored the girl over her two sons with Bob, and the author grew up feeling alienated from both his parents, spending most of his time reading alone in his room. Over the next several years, his parents divorced, remarried and then divorced again, their tenuous yet stubborn bond remaining constant. After Marie’s death at age 48, the author, now married and studying for a doctorate in English, learned that his mother had engaged in financial deception in addition to adultery. Root’s plainspoken honesty is striking: “I also knew that, even in that moment when I was still in the throes of my own grief and my own sense of loss, I would not forgive my mother for this betrayal.” Further segments address Root’s own divorce and remarriage and the ways that we alternately repeat and reject our parents’ choices.
Although the narrative is occasionally meandering and stolid, the best sections address the difficulties inherent in coming to terms with parental imperfections.