The holidays are coming! The holidays are coming! Terrified yet? Families gather, special meals are cooked, and stories are told. Sounds good? Sometimes the turkey is raw, the tree falls, the latkes are soggy, the sweater itches. Whatever happens makes it into family lore and life goes on: a little scratchy, a little soggy, a little under baked. Sounds real? This month, most of our memoirists spent time trying to figure out how to form—or stay part of—a family. Voices were raised, tears were shed, goodbyes were said. Sounds real, right?
Chupack, Cindy. The Longest Date: Life as a Wife. Viking. Jan. 2014. 224p. ISBN 9780670025534. MEMOIR
Chupack, a veteran TV writer and producer (Sex and the City; Everybody Loves Raymond) survived years of frantic dating and a first marriage to a guy who turned out to be gay. In the later act of her real-life rom-com, she was swept off her feet by a handsome lawyer who—hold on to your hats—proposed dressed as a knight in shining armor on a white horse. It’s all got to go downhill from there, right? Her chatty and frank observations on the delicate process of making the transition from fun couple to married grown-ups range from the bawdy to the affecting in this fast-moving look at what it takes to make things happy forever after.
VERDICT Chupack breezes through countless anecdotes from her early married years but her tone turns serious when she—and in a moving chapter, her husband—describes the pain of a lost pregnancy and infertility. Her thoroughly modern look at marriage will appeal to those in the early days of wedlock who might be wondering if it was a mistake to tie the knot with someone who insists that his pinball machine belongs in the living room.
Corrigan, Kelly. Glitter and Glue. Ballantine. Feb. 2014. 240p. ISBN 9780345532831. MEMOIR
Corrigan chronicles her post-college adventure in Australia in this prequel to her earlier memoir The Middle Place. The “action” takes place in a suburban neighborhood, not really so different from the one half a world away where Corrigan grew up before she became a nanny to two young children whose mother had just died. Months of caring for the grieving children caused Corrigan to consider her mother, and her mother’s seemingly endless supply of practicality and realism, in a new light.
VERDICT Corrigan’s mother would point out that while her husband was the “glitter” in the family, she was the “glue,” something Corrigan didn’t really appreciate until she needed to hold another family together herself. This quiet look at what it takes to keep it all going will engage Corrigan’s previous fans and new readers alike.
Feldon, Jenny. Karma Gone Bad: How I Learned To Love Mangos, Bollywood and Water Buffalo. Sourcebooks. Nov. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9781402284229. pap. MEMOIR
A two-year assignment in India for her husband gave blogger (karmacontinued.com) and professional urbanite Feldon plenty of fodder for the blog mill but it did not work out that way at first. Overwhelmed by culture shock and unwilling to swap chai for Starbucks lattes, the author’s early experiences in Hyderabad were a series of slapstick misadventures. When the state of her marriage suffers, she devises ways to acclimate and adjust, some of which involve better caffeine sources and actual yoga classes.
VERDICT This is not Proust but fans accustomed to bloggers living aloud will zip happily through Feldon’s chatty recounting of her antics. Readers will derive a sense of what the privileged life of an American expat in call-center India is like but may be put off by the author’s initial unwillingness to immerse herself in the adventure of a lifetime.
Hustad, Megan. More Than Conquerors: A Memoir of Lost Arguments. Farrar. Feb. 2014. 240p. ISBN 9780374298838. MEMOIR
Hustad’s parents left the United States for nine years when their two daughters were young and worked as evangelical missionaries with Trans World Radio in Bonaire and Holland. Their return to America’s Midwest was not a triumphant one and signaled the splintering of the family, as each member searched for a way to live in a country and culture that, often, regards the faithful of any sort as naïfs or charlatans. The author’s graceful articulation of her post-evangelical beliefs and the grim disappointments of her family’s post-mission lives combine to create a portrait of a family held together by love and disagreement.
VERDICT This is such a clear study that you’ll be able to predict what everyone in this family would do or say in a given circumstance. You can’t draw a much sharper picture than Hustad has and, if you did, she would urge you to remember to be merciful in your efforts.
Nelson, Jessica Hendry. If Only You People Could Follow Directions. Counterpoint. Jan. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9781619022331. MEMOIR
The author’s family was stretched to its limits by addictions, mental illness, death, incarcerations and financial instability. Each episode in this carefully crafted series of essays illuminates another moment of inertia or determination in the shaky journey Nelson took toward independence and stability. The best essays unfold like scenes in an indie flick, with the bad motels and boardwalks so accurately rendered.
VERDICT Nelson presents clearly the frustrations of loving people who are just no good for you. The little girl who pictured her dad checking into jail as if he were checking into a hotel grew up to be a woman who could walk on all sorts of thin ice and survive to tell the stories about it. We’re fortunate she chose to share the stories.