Review

The End of an Error

by Mameve Medwed



Mameve Medwed may have intended to open her new novel with a
portrait of the writer (in this case Maine wife, mother, and
college instructor Lee Emery) as a contented middleaged woman. She
must have scrapped that notion quickly, because Lee's simmering
discontent shows as often as a badly fitting slip. While it's
perfectly plausible that someone might be excited at having the
smallest of small presses release her long-awaited memoir of her
grandmother, Mainely Marguerite, it isn't plausible at all for Lee
Emery. Her memories of and experiences with her grandmother alone
should make her eager for a better publisher.

While Medwed may have been trying to demonstrate how pathetically
circumscribed Lee's life has become as the wife of an obscure
academic and mother of three radically different children, there
are several sections in which the pitch is way below perfect (for
example, Lee's first author event). However, there are other
sections in which Medwed has perfect pitch: the delicious (albeit
somewhat overblown) descriptions of awkward teenaged unconsummated
love and its attendant longing, the sad vision of the aging
Marguerite trying to hold on to the last bits of her glamorous
life, and the equally sad vision of Lee's old love Simon grappling
with ill health and a lonely existence.

One of the most compelling ideas in this novel --- and one I'd like
to see a book centered around --- is writerly rivalry 'twixt man
and wife. Lee's husband Bill has spent most of his academic career
on an obscure Maine logger named Nathaniel Tarbell, and has clearly
placed all of his passion into "Nathaniel," as the entire family
calls him. Lee, meanwhile, has sublimated her own passions --- for
writing, for Simon --- into an attempt to be a perfect wife and
mother, just as her own mother sublimated herself in the face of
Marguerite's outré lifestyle.

Medwed recently told an interviewer, "I think the characters have
to grow and, particularly with women characters, we women want them
to have some self-knowledge. We want them to take charge of their
lives, particularly women who spend a lot of time raising a family.
... At some point, we want them to do things for themselves ... to
grow up." One of the wisest things Medwed has done in this new book
is to make Lee's destiny the outcome of Lee's direct action. Once
her slim volume has been published, Lee chooses to send a copy to
Simon. While the events that follow aren't necessarily predictable,
they are definitely Lee's own events --- not her mother's, not her
grandmother's, not her husband's.

Mameve Medwed delivers a real mule kick of a conclusion to this
book; I don't think that qualifies as a spoiler given her choice of
title. Besides, the dustjacket image of a weathered birdhouse is
reminiscent of I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS, LA CAGE AUX FOLLES,
and other cultural referents that evoke connotations of people who
are trapped and longing to express themselves and/or fly
away.

As in her previous novels (MAIL and HOST FAMILY spring to mind),
Medwed manages to weave in themes and symbols that, if not always
subtle (cf. the birdhouse), are almost always cohesive. In THE END
OF AN ERROR, these include birds of prey and plumage, and how
historical ghosts can haunt us more dreadfully than any
poltergeist.

Reviewed by Bethanne Kelly Patrick on April 26, 2011

The End of an Error
by Mameve Medwed

  • Publication Date: April 1, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0061335355
  • ISBN-13: 9780061335358