A part of me wondered why I was drawn to pick up Epilogue, Anne Roiphe’s memoir about the year-and-change (some pun intended) she experienced as a newly-widowed woman, when I spied it on the library shelf.
And, I confess, that part of me continued to wonder as the rest of me worked through the inevitably sorrow-filled stories of Roiphe’s earliest days post-loss: the mundane acts rendered surreal by the combination of shock, numbness and grief; the creeping realizations that however much of a life she had left, it was suddenly all she had left, the only certainty left to her. I am going through a phase of loss and loneliness and uncertainty in my own life, albeit one brought on myself; was I looking for clues on how to behave? Or of what lies ahead? Or of how to behave based on what lies ahead? Roiphe is 26 years older than I am; she is also almost exactly one month older than my mother would have been. Am I just (foolishly) trying to assemble clues about my future by mining someone else’s past?
Slowly, page by page, anecdote by anecdote, the reason for reading, and for writing, is revealed: the stories are connection, and connection is everything. The stories are vehicles of truth, and truth, however painful, is the only way to bring light to life. Truth and love. Roiphe’s memoir is strung together by a hundred tiny stories of telling the truth rather than shrouding evil with silence, but it is also peppered with wonderful, hopeful story-lets describing the healing power of music, the crazy grace of a perfect, random moment, the perverse persistence of biological desire one alternately wishes for and away.
Funny, touching, shocking, enraging stories: a nightmarish story of attempted strangulation by lawsuit, which is strangely balanced by the nonsensical, stubborn insistence of her deceased husband’s ex-wife to receive the full month’s alimony for the partial last month of his life. A woeful story of a former friend who turns away; a string of new romances that mostly stop before they get a chance to start; a crushing story of a family rent by first the hiding, then the revelation of a family member’s secret.
Threaded through are the gems good and modest writers leave without fanfare for our surprise and delight, that “trying is not the way to loving”, or that psychoanalysts are the archenemies of the secret (lowercase, please, there is not an ounce of New-Age-rhymes-with-“sewage” in first-wave feminist Anne Roiphe). I am already dreaming up capes and costumes for Leslie and my first-shrink-slash-astrologer, both of whom are absolutely superheroes with attendant superpowers, IMHO.
Maybe you, like me, will have to apply yourself to the early-on pages of Epilogue with a bit of faith. This will come together; the glimmers I see here and there in these threads of stories will weave themselves into a whole that offers support, that helps carry me forth through this rough spot to the next bit of smooth going.
Roiphe herself is not much for faith. At first, she soldiers on for practical reasons, because not to do so would devastate those she would leave behind. She neither believes in a hereafter where she and her beloved “H.” will be reunited, nor is she at all certain that a renewed interest in (or availability of) earthy delights is around the corner. But her stories, and their messages, and their energy, finally carry her forward, too. And somehow, in the end (or at least, by the end of her story here), we feel it together: that the point of a life, to paraphrase Jonathan Swift, is to live all the days of it.
Yo! Disclosure! Links to the books in the post above are Amazon affiliate links. This means if you click on them and buy something, I receive an affiliate commission. Which I hope you do: it helps keep me in books to review. More on this disclosure stuff at publisher Michael Hyatt’s excellent blog, from whence I lifted (and smooshed around a little) this boilerplate text.