In The Madwoman and the Roomba, Sandra Tsing Loh chronicles her 55th year, which feels “like living a disorganized twenty-five-year-old’s life in a malfunctioning eighty-five-year-old’s body.” As with her previous books The Madwoman in the Volvo and Mother on Fire, Loh finds comedy in the indignities and absurdities of contemporary life. These books make up a comic memoir in three parts: In the earlier books, Loh adjusted to motherhood and went through a rocky divorce, and this time, Loh is happily divorced and happily post-menopausal.
But she’s still recording her life with let-it-all-hang-out charm. She recalls her embarrassing claustrophobic freakout at the March for Science, and she tries to unleash her inner midlife goddess while parenting two teenagers. In the essay “Home Self-Care,” Loh writes, “The time has come. I can deny it no longer. My three-story 1906 Craftsman house has become a haunted-house-like eyesore.” She describes her efforts to improve her terrible front yard, hire a painter, understand her malfunctioning high-tech fridge and follow her new cookbook’s recipes.
Loh’s tone is breezy and self-deprecating—it’s like having a glass of wine or a long phone call with your witty, goofy friend. Because the narrative is loosely structured, you can read straight through or just dip into an essay when the mood strikes.
Something Loh doesn’t mention in The Madwoman and the Roomba is that she’s a Renaissance woman. She hosts two podcasts—the public radio podcast “The Loh Down on Science” (she holds a B.S. in physics from Cal Tech) and “The Loh Life,” her takes on life, family and pop culture. She’s performed in one-woman shows based on her writing, and she’s had bit parts in the TV show “The Office” and other productions. She’s also won a Pushcart Prize, published a novel and five other nonfiction books, and she’s written musical scores for an Oscar-winning documentary. I wish that Loh had riffed on her amazing jumble of a creative life, and how switching genres works, or doesn’t work, for her. But maybe that’s a wish for Loh to write another book.