The increasingly popular novel-in-stories format seems to have a counterpart in nonfiction: the linked-essays memoir. Like all memoirs, these books tell a personal story, but the telling is episodic rather than along the straightforward narrative through-line found in both traditionally autobiographical and experience-based memoirs. Ive read a few of these - Dani Shapiro's reflective Devotion
, Quinn Cummings' born-from-a-blog Notes From the Underwire
and, less recently, Ayelet Waldman's controversial Bad Mother
- and I'm gaining a real appreciation for the structure, considered apart from the content. But I appreciated Kyran Pittman's Planting Dandelions
The seeds of Planting Dandelions
(only a little bit of pun intended) are in the blog Kyran began keeping at Christmas 2005, Notes to Self. That blog led to a contributing-editor's job with Good Housekeeping magazine as well as this book, and I read it for several years; it's since been retitled and folded into a blog connected with this book, and it's still an excellent example of a blog that you keep returning to because of the writing. That writing carries over to the book. While Pittman is selective about the episodes shes chosen to include in her memoir - as is completely her right - her voice is never less than honest and intimate as she shares them, and her words are thoughtful and well-chosen. I may be bringing my own filter to this, but the voice strikes me as one honed on a blog, in the best possible way.
There were a lot of observations here that really clicked with me. Kyran lives in Little Rock, Arkansas - just three hours from my old home in Memphis, Tennessee - and we/ve had the common experience of coming from Northeastern roots and growing to love the American South, with all its complications; the 11th essay in the book, "Southern Man," talked about that adaptation with some references that felt familiar. She's experienced infidelity and divorce, and both have influenced her eyes-wide-open approach to her second marriage, now well into its second decade. Her reflections on juggling work and family sound familiar, but I felt they were given additional dimension by her openly conflicted feelings about domesticity (hence the "semi-" in the subtitle).
Pittman is forthright about the challenges of marriage, parenting, and combining the two, and her storytelling is often moving and frequently amusing. However, I didn't get a sense of things being exaggerated for comic effect; while not always overly serious, it's clear that the author has given a lot of thought to the matters she's writing about, and reading Planting Dandelions
feels like a really good, long, deep conversation.