An artist and poet searches the world for a place to call home.
Gardner (Box of Light, 2008, etc.) opens her debut memoir in the place she felt happiest: Tepoztlán, Mexico in the 1980s. One son is in college; the other is finishing high school in nearby Mexico City. Her unfaithful, controlling husband also lives in Mexico City, a place the narrator finds suffocating, both physically and emotionally. Alone in her riverside cottage, she paints and makes friends. Unexpectedly—even she can’t explain why—she agrees to leave paradise and follow her husband back to New York, the city of her childhood. The subsequent chapters follow the narrator’s life as a child in the 1940s with a cold mother and absent father; through her time as a Foreign Service wife in Japan, Korea, Mexico, Washington, D.C., and Virginia; and her later travels in Europe and the U.S. The author recounts her life with an artist’s eye, furnishing telling details about the places and people she encounters. Arranged by locale, chapters contain shorter sections prefaced by a thematic word or phrase such as “No More Talking” or “The Dress,” making the book more accessible and richer than a list of events. Despite the disappointments in her life, the narrator doesn’t wallow in self-pity. Instead, she ties her experiences to political and historical events with clear, sometimes funny one-liners: “There was war in the Pacific and in Europe, and in our apartment.” In this way, her writing mirrors her line drawings—simple lines with surprising nuance and depth. The book’s title evokes her love of calligraphy, her meandering travels, her poetry (the book includes several poems) and society’s expectations for women that she must decide to uphold or not. Her deliberate storytelling style makes for thoughtful, but not especially dramatic, reading.
Artists, writers and other “outsiders” will find much to ponder in this reflective memoir.