In this honest and moving memoir, long-widowed Lynn Darling confides the drastic move she took to reinvent herself once Zoe, her daughter, moved away to college. Suddenly feeling completely at a loss and directionless, she found herself wondering: Who was she, if not a mother? Where should she go from this point?
Lynn (I feel like I know her well enough to be on a first-name basis with her now) decides she needs a whole new life. She leaves her comfortable apartment in the middle of bustling New York City to move to her summer home deep in the woods of Vermont. The house is, to put it kindly, "quirky." Previous owners renovated some of it, but it still has stairs and doorways leading nowhere. A rat's nest of electrical wire hooked to ancient solar panels feels like an insurmountable problem. Lynn doesn't understand how the solar gadgets work; when local workmen explain the maintenance and the limitations of the system ("Don't use the clothes dryer, let the sun do that job. Don't run any appliances late in the afternoon…"), she is overwhelmed. The house presents other challenges as well, such as how to warm it as winter comes on, how to keep the mice out of the living space, and on and on.
"OUT OF THE WOODS is a fantastic and uplifting read --- so thoroughly satisfying that I can see hanging on to this book and reading it again every few years."
However, the biggest challenge, at least at first, is isolation. Lynn both longs for the solitude in which she hopes to find herself and loathes it. She acquires Henry, a yellow lab pup, which brings a whole new set of issues. However, almost imperceptibly she begins to feel more comfortable in "Castle Dismal" (her name for her house in the woods) as well as in her own skin. She establishes relationships with neighbors and people in the nearby village. She hires workers to fix the house up to at least a comfortable state, buying a woodstove and learning to keep the house warm. She eventually finds pleasure in solitude but also forces herself to confront the issue of dating and romantic relationships. Yet, just as she starts to reach equilibrium, an entirely new, huge challenge presents itself.
I have to confess that the beginning of OUT OF THE WOODS didn't immediately reach out and grab me. I found myself pondering how beautifully the author wrote, but I had come for a ripping good tale and was afraid I hadn't found one. How wrong I was, and how glad that I persevered for a bit longer. A couple of chapters in, I could hardly tear myself away, counting down the hours until I could open the book again, to rejoin Lynn on her wayfinding quest. So much of what she has to say, as she bares her soul with sometimes nearly painful honesty, struck close to home with me. Lynn's plight feels both personal and universal since no matter what our age or situation, we all must eventually close one chapter in the story of our lives and then figure out how to approach the next one. In addition, parts of this memoir nearly moved me to tears (the amazing kindness of her village friends) while others (Lynn’s utter bewilderment when offered convoluted directions to one place or another) gave me a good laugh.
All in all, OUT OF THE WOODS is a fantastic and uplifting read --- so thoroughly satisfying that I can see hanging on to this book and reading it again every few years.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on January 8, 2014
Out of the Woods: A Memoir of Wayfinding