Adam (Marrying Santiago, 2015) looks back on an accidental life in Chile from the perspective of nearly 50 years.
The author, a California native, traces her life journey, beginning with her 1972 move to Chile and marriage. The narrative is less a memoir than a collection of blog post–like anecdotes—a mixed blessing. Adam moves from moment to moment, subject to subject in a series of serendipitous slices of life, but readers will be left looking for a set of throughlines to help the vignettes add up. The author is an adequate writer—“away from city noises,” she observes in one short essay, “I notice the sounds of the wind: soughing through pine branches, howling around the eaves of the house, whistling through electric wires”—and there is a kind of tactile immediacy to the language, a physicality to the scenes. Unfortunately, as the book progresses, there is less to compel us. For all Adam promises to tell us about Chile, her life is not so different from those of upper-middle-class people everywhere. She writes, for instance, about the decision to let her hair grow gray or the way that playing with her grandchildren allows her to feel young. All of this material is fair game, but it is hardly unique. If a writer is going to take on daily life in an engrossing way, there must be something in her expression to illuminate the experience, to get beneath the surface and light it from within. Instead, Adam offers lists or commonplaces—e.g., what she bought at the market, what she said to the gardener—without any particular nuance or insight. Even late in the book, when she chronicles her return to Colombia, where she was in the Peace Corps, the stakes feel inessential and underexplored.
Adam’s life has many intriguing elements, but her experiences are too often flat and formless on the page.