In this voice-driven memoir, Dawn Davies tells her story in a fragmented way, moving through time in great leaps—childhood, young adulthood, single parenthood, post-divorce love, baffled-but-game mother of the bride. An early essay recalls her childhood spent trying to feel at home but getting uprooted repeatedly: As soon as she gets the hang of upstate New York, she’s uprooted to Florida, starting over while her parents’ marriage disintegrates. An essay about her young adulthood begins like a short story: “Once, when I was twenty, I went on a date with a man I met at the Army Navy store in Cambridge, Massachusetts.” This date goes terribly wrong, but in a most unexpected way. She also recounts a difficult pregnancy through the lens of an interminable dinner party, punctuated by her awful morning sickness and others’ drunkenness.
Some of these essays are harrowing, describing intractable medical ailments, sudden poverty, a husband who bails out. But Davies is also a funny and vivid writer. In a lighter essay she imagines the men she might have slept with, a strangely compelling list that includes Doc Holliday, John Irving and Jon Hamm. She also does a funny takedown of the bizarre realm of soccer moms, implicating herself and her own fixation on her little athletes.
These essays surprise, illuminating odd corners of parenthood. Perhaps most surprising is the heartbreaking title essay, which examines the rigors of parenting a child through multiple medical emergencies and mental illness, but she intersperses these episodes with sections in which she imagines herself as a mother of an ancient Spartan warrior, asking a parent’s most difficult questions. But because the book’s previous essays have very little to say about her son’s difficulties, this essay, late in the book, comes as a shock. Still, Davies’ voice is compelling, and one worth following.