I’ve made significant progress on literary scholar Robert Root’s memoir Happenstance (University of Iowa Press: 2013). The book has grown on me, a bit slow paced but consistant in its contents and style. I am reviewing the book for the online magazine Hippocampus. My deadline approaches (January 20).
With a past as a journalist, I put way too much effort and thought into reviewing books. I want to be fair, and honest, but it’s a lot of effort to write a book and when I don’t love the book… I don’t want to say anything that would hurt the author or publisher. I guess that’s a professional responsibility. Whatever I say reflects on me, and I want to find the strengths on any manuscript and look at what the book offers for the intended audience. For example, the biography of Jimi Hendrix I reviewed obviously was never targeted at someone like me for its demographic.
I think that’s also the way I’ve tried to look at the world. What is the good in this situation? Who benefits? Why am I uncomfortable?
But back to Happenstance… I’m three-quarters of the way through the text. I’ve noticed a pattern, or more maybe a theme. Root is looking at his childhood through relationships— primarily marriage and divorce— and I believe he is searching for how these marriages and divorces molded his life and influenced his own relationships.
Of course, it looks ridiculous to write that. Of course a memoir would develop in this way! Let me refine. The relationships… Mom and Dad and their divorce and subsequent remarriage… remain the characters that Root returns to again and again. There are isolated instances of topics that don’t relate to this theme, his first job as a pin boy or his love of the cinema, but uses the theme of his parents’ relationship(s) to build the story.
The book is more than half finished and he hasn’t reached high school. I am curious to see how and where it ends.