I just finished your memoir Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, and, of course, I loved it. I’ve always relished the way you draw on your own experiences,
strewing your New York Times columns with first-person pronouns: “That’s what makes life so hard for women, that instead of thinking that this is the way things are, we always think it’s the way we are.” I still savor the sharp images you use. A passing jet is “a shining exclamation point in the blue sky” and women sandwiched between nurturing kids and nursing aging parents are “caregivers cubed.” Reading your personal and poignant prose once again took me back to my first encounter with your columns in the early Eighties.
The New York Times seemed austere, dense, a paper for corporate types and lawyers to peruse over leisurely wife-made breakfasts. A working mom, I seldom had time to skim the front page of my local paper before leaving my kids’ egg-crusted
dishes on the table and tearing off to teach my community college classes. Then a female colleague recommended your column, so I read it. To my amazement, it was actually about stuff that interested me, “women’s stuff” like grocery shopping with kids, the amniocentesis dilemma, and working from home with a toddler drooling on your lap and an infant waking from a nap. I recalled a time when my comments on the student essays I read at home were punctuated by yogurt splotches when I returned them to their authors. Who knew this detail of my messy double life mattered? You did. You taught me that certain issues that mattered to me, what we now call “women’s issues,” were actually newsworthy, New York Times-worthy. Thanks to you, when menopause hit, I knew this daunting passage mattered, and I wrote a series of mysteries featuring Bel Barrett, a Kegeling, sweating amateur sleuth who tracks killers in between mood swings.
There’s more to my affinity for your memoir than my appreciation of your style and subject matter though. Your unashamed membership in the middle
class is both refreshing and validating. In an era of victim-lit, your references to your comfortable, albeit not opulent childhood during which you were neither abused nor addicted is a relief. Your mother’s illness and death saddened you but did not destroy you and neither did being the oldest of five sibs. You went to college, married a lawyer, got several great jobs, had children, and found a way to stay home with them and still write. None of this sounds like gripping memoir-fodder, but it is when you put it out there and describe what you learned from your relatively untroubled life. In Lots of Candles, you refer to your good fortune unabashedly each time you mention your healthy kids, your happy marriage, your two homes, and, of course, your extremely rewarding work. As a result of that work, you, a woman and a writer, both traditionally underpaid, are able to retain your place among the middle class, a cohort vanishing even as I type. Kudos and thank you for your game-changing columns, your inspiring memoir, and your engrossing novels.