A writer recounts her playful search for buried treasure and a more serious hunt for some emotional meaning that she struggles to define.
At the age of 46, debut author Miller had what most would consider an enviable life: a vibrant career as a writer and “part-time college English teacher,” a loving husband, and “two madcap kids,” not to mention no shortage of friends. But she still felt profoundly discontent, as if she was “made of longing”: “What is missing that will make me feel whole, and why, when I’m teetering on the brink of fifty, can I still not find it?” She channeled her questing energy into a gamesome “armchair treasure hunt,” an organized competition in which the contestants interpreted clues in order to track down $10,000 in coins buried somewhere in New York City. She became increasingly obsessed with the search and developed an unhealthy crush on her treasure hunt partner, David, who stimulated “unbidden longing” in her. She spent so much time driving back and forth between her home in Boston and New York, her marriage to her husband, Mark, began to suffer. When pressed why precisely she felt such an urgent compulsion to find the treasure, she was exasperatingly incapable of articulating an answer. The author poignantly documents, in sometimes-painful vignettes of retrospection, the dysfunctional childhood that surely was the principal source of her midlife crisis. Miller recounts that she grew up in an emotionally arid home: Her mother was coldly angry and her father, distant and uncommunicative at best and mercurially violent on his worst days. Her prose is both playfully anecdotal and openhandedly confessional—the author achieves an impressive balance between lighthearted banter and heartache. The chief preoccupation of the remembrance—the author’s amorphous but devastating dissatisfaction at approaching 50—is not exactly new literary ground, and the symbolism of the treasure hunt, if that search weren’t real, would read as a clumsily obvious metaphor. But her writing style is so unpretentiously candid and her childhood so grimly remarkable that readers are unlikely to mind. This is a moving recollection brimming with emotional insights.
A stirring memoir that beautifully and humorously captures the pain of unresolved loss.