Book review of Splinters by Leslie Jamison


Leslie Jamison has been lauded for her essay collections Make It Scream, Make It Burn and The Empathy Exams, as well as her memoir The Recovery. In her new memoir Splinters: Another Kind of Love Story, Jamison focuses on her first years of newly single motherhood and the unraveling of her marriage. An incisive observer, Jamison braids episodes of her past—her close-knit relationship with her mother, her uncertain relationship with her distant father and her years of drinking and recovery—with her present. She recounts scenes from her courtship with “C,” as she calls her ex-husband, their sudden wedding in Las Vegas and the complications of two writers in a relationship. She mourns the loss of this marriage, questioning her part in its end.

Jamison’s descriptions of life with a newborn are spot-on, conveying the glory and tedium of new parenthood, as are her descriptions of the patched together life of a working parent and writer. The difficulties of managing a nationwide book tour with a baby in tow may be less relatable to readers, but writers with children will recognize her struggles to squeeze in writing around the edges of a too-busy life.

Throughout, Jamison returns to the impossible question of “Am I good enough?” as she details post-marriage relationships with men who remain out of reach, and she is searing in conveying the wanting and shame that crowd disparate corners of her life. Still, there is a hole in this story when it comes to the details of the rupture between Jamison and her ex-husband. Of course, these are not episodes that any reader has the right to know, but when the narrative refers to “the unforgivable thing she did” and offers anecdotes about her ex’s continuing fury after they’ve separated, the reader is left wanting to know what happened.

That said, Splinters’ close look at early parenthood, baby love, the uncertainties of relationships and how feelings of inadequacy play out in one woman’s life, rendered in Jamison’s elegant, vivid and often sensuous prose, makes her latest work stand out.

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