“My social media would tell you I was a working comedian with hobbies, love, a close family, and important opinions on trending topics,” author Sara Schaefer confides in her powerful memoir, Grand. “But inside, there was this impossibly tight knot, hissing at me, suffocating me, sucking the joy out of almost everything I did.”
Schaefer is a successful comedian who has worked for Jimmy Fallon and hosted a talk show on MTV with fellow comedian Nikki Glaser. In Grand, she toggles between her childhood in Midlothian, Virginia, and a 40th-birthday Grand Canyon rafting trip with her younger sister.
For most of her early years, Schaefer and her three siblings lived a privileged life as the children of a lawyer and a stay-at-home mom. Her parents both drove Porsches. Her mom’s closet was “a jungle of textures: beads, suede, fur, silk.” Their Christmases featured mountains of presents. But after Schaefer and her siblings learned that their dad had misappropriated his clients’ funds, their family’s opulent lifestyle was replaced by low-paying jobs as they rebuilt their lives and repaid their debts.
The rafting trip is a way for Schaefer to face her fears, both literally (she is afraid of water) and spiritually (she hasn’t fully grieved the death of her mom a decade earlier). Schaefer and her sister travel through Class VIII rapids and learn how to check their campsite for scorpions before bedtime. All the while, Schaefer’s writing is radiant, whether she’s describing the wonder of the Grand Canyon or her early years as a stand-up comedian in New York City. She tells her story with a generosity that never lapses into sentimentality.
“The sound of the rushing river canceled out all the other sounds,” she writes of her first night sleeping in the canyon. “I thanked the universe for this moment, made peace with my demons, and finally became one with nature. I fell into a deep, soul-restoring sleep. Just kidding—I tossed and turned and cussed for six hours straight.” The melding of humor and pain makes Grand a fresh and engaging read. It is a wise, funny acknowledgment that we are not always in control—and that growth is most likely to happen when we let go.