Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage

Title:  Hourglass:  Time, Memory, Marriage
Author:  Dani Shapiro
Publication Information:  Knopf. 2017. 160 pages.
ISBN:  0451494482 / 978-0451494481

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "From my office window I see my husband on the driveway below."

Favorite Quote:  "I cannot bring myself to even idly wish any of it - not even the most painful parts - away. Eighteen years. Change even one moment, and the whole thing unravels. The narrative thread doesn't stretch in a line from end to end, but rather, spools and unspools, loops around and returns again and again to the same spot. Come closer now and listen. Be thankful for all of it."

The words that come to mind reading this book are nonlinear, personal, intimate, quiet, and reflective. Dani (aka Daniele Joyce) Shapiro has been married to "M" (aka Michael Maren) since 1997 - nineteen years. He is a screenwriter; she is an author of novels, memoirs, and magazine articles. They are parents to a teenage son Jacob.

This slim book is a reflection and commentary on marriage. It is also about how and what we choose to remember and how and what we choose to forget. It is about survival, perseverance, and compromise. After all, a marriage takes work from both spouses to foster, nourish, and grow the relationship. Dani and M together persevered through their child's serious illness; now, they persevere through the teenage years. M gave up his career as a news correspondent partly because of her fears for his safety. She worries that perhaps that was too great a sacrifice. They cheer on each other's successes and worry when career and other individual challenges arise. This is about marriage with all that entails about two people and two families coming together to create a new life.

Last summer, Dani Shapiro wrote a column for The New York Times titled "When You Write a Memoir, Readers Think They Know You Better Than They Do." That is quite a mouthful for a title, but true. As the article states, "When I write a book, I have no interest in telling all, the way I absolutely do long to while talking to a close friend. My interest is in telling precisely what the story requires. It is along the knife’s edge of this discipline that the story becomes larger, more likely to touch the “thread of the Universe,” Emerson’s beautiful phrase."

The book Hourglass establishes that intimacy between author and reader. It makes me forget that I am reading a carefully crafted piece of work and makes me feel as if I have a window on her life. Fact, fiction, or otherwise, it doesn't really matter. What makes this a great book for me is the reaction it elicits in me. The craft of Dani Shapiro's writing makes it feel real and heartfelt. It also begins in me a reflection on my own life. I may not remember the specific details of this book over time, but that feeling of quiet reflection will linger.

I do feel that this is one of those books whose reception will depend on where the reader is in his or her life. That is true of all books, but it feels more true of this one because it is a reflection on an institution like marriage and because of its meandering, quiet pace through memory. This is not a memoir with a linear timeline or a plot; it is more like picking through a photo album, drifting from memory to memory until an image more expansive than the photographs themselves forms.

This is the first book I have read by Dani Shapiro. I look forward to reading more.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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