Post #26 – Women’s Memoirs, Book Raves – Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett
Review by Michelle Rockwell
Place. It’s around us and inside us at the same time. Life’s experiences are a unique mixture of private and public space. In Together, Alone: A Memoir of Marriage and Place, Susan Wittig Albert casts a penetrating gaze on the visible and invisible elements of private life. She begins in the mid-1980’s traveling the country side in “Amazing Grace,” her home on wheels, with her new husband Bill. The three of them, and I say three because Grace actually seems to have a life of her own, eventually settle in the Texas Hill Country. After many years of faithful service, Grace is retired and replaced by Sammy, a roomy 696 square foot trailer perched on Meadow Knoll. Other homes arrive on the scene as needed, including Serenity and Tranquility Base. Later, after a period of restlessness and a need for answers, Albert retreats to Lebh Shomea, where she finds satisfaction and sustenance in a community of people who cherish silence and solitude.
With place comes the ritual of naming. “Naming connects us to the places that have significance for us, places that tell our stories. How do we know where in the world we are if we can’t place ourselves in the landscape? How can we describe a natural setting if we don’t have a vocabulary that defines its features?” (p.48).
As a reader, I became fond of Albert’s wide assortment of creatures who shared her space on Meadow Knoll, including Picasso, the peacock and Aunti Em, the goose among others. I wanted to go to Meadow Knoll. I wanted to walk with the dogs and cross the footbridge over Long Pool. I wanted to watch the seasons change from green to gold, to brown and back again with my own eyes. I wanted to feel the Texas heat and breath on my skin. I wanted to go to the monastery, Lebh Shomea, and be chastised by the nun, Black Stockings, for walking on the grass, “Hey lady, didn’t you notice the rule about silence? How’d you manage to miss the Big One, huh? Can’t you friggin’ READ?” (p.147).
As a writer, I learned that place goes beyond setting. Albert shows how place grows from the roots of history and extends beyond the borders of home. There is place in union and in solitude, in self and spirit, in heart and intellect. And through it all, we are together and alone.
NOTE: Click Here to listen to our interview with Susan Wittig Albert. She has many suggestions for writers based on her extensive experience with writing and with teaching about memoir writing.