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Splinters: Another Kind of Love Story


Splinters: Another Kind of Love Story

Given the rate of divorce in America, it’s not surprising that memoirs about marital strife are proliferating, which is bound to induce a sense of déja vu when yet another one appears. But when it happens to be written by an author as talented as Leslie Jamison and is as relentlessly candid and eloquent as SPLINTERS: Another Kind of Love Story, there’s good reason to put aside any reservations and dive in.

SPLINTERS is a multi-themed tapestry whose threads are woven with precision and grace. In it, Jamison wrestles with an ever-lurking army of her own demons, including her almost obsessive need to please, which is only one facet of her lifelong struggle to measure up to some external standard of excellence in her personal and professional lives. It’s also the bittersweet story of Jamison’s relationship with her daughter in the first two years of the child’s life. This ground-level glimpse of the joys and difficulties of parenting in those early years is complicated here by the tensions of a marital fracture and her own intense ambition.

Jamison primarily trains her keen attention on the difficult years following the end of her relatively brief marriage to novelist Charles Bock (referred to as “C” in her account). He came to their relationship after his first wife’s long struggle with cancer that ended with her death. They married at midnight in a wedding chapel in his hometown of Las Vegas, and their daughter was born in the winter of 2017. This was not long before Jamison embarked with the newborn on a lengthy multi-city tour to promote her book, THE RECOVERING: Intoxication and Its Aftermath, an exploration of the relationship between substance abuse and creativity seen through the lens of her own alcoholism and sobriety.

"SPLINTERS is a multi-themed tapestry whose threads are woven with precision and grace.... Jamison digs deeply here, and SPLINTERS overflows with vivid imagery and descriptions that animate her recollections."

A product of divorce herself, Jamison, not yet married as she entered her 30s, had “wanted the solidity of what you couldn’t undo,” but it became evident well before their daughter’s arrival that her marriage to C, nearly 15 years her senior, was foundering. Despite several years of couples counseling, she realized that the end was inevitable and that she would have to be the one to end it.

Jamison frankly regrets that, in deciding to wed C after only six months, she “listened to the part of myself that was falling in love, and ignored everything else.” The reality of her marriage was that “another woman’s death was nestled inside every moment between us. It was the house we lived in,” and her inability to repair the profound damage of that loss was one of the principal factors that doomed their union.

Separated from C and freshly ensconced in a railroad one-bedroom sublet next to a firehouse, she quickly discovers how challenging the world of single parenthood will be, especially after she returns to her teaching job. She frequently yearns for a partner who can help share her burden, even as that need is balanced against the intensity of her devotion to her daughter. The soundtrack of her days is a kind of staticky buzz, as she acknowledges “how the volatility of my life was a noise that drowned out all other frequencies.”

And yet, for all these tensions, one of the aspects of SPLINTERS that refreshingly distinguishes it from many divorce memoirs is the absence of vituperative score-settling. Despite references to C’s anger (“the humidity of his unspoken rage”) and descriptions of a couple of ugly scenes during the transfer of their daughter in their custody-sharing arrangement, she takes pains to emphasize his positive qualities.

In the essays collected in THE EMPATHY EXAMS and MAKE IT SCREAM, MAKE IT BURN, Jamison’s writing has always been distinctive for its specificity and effective use of sensory detail. She explains to her students that “digging underneath the cocktail-party version of a story was like turning over a smooth stone to get at the moss and dirt below.”

Jamison digs deeply here, and SPLINTERS overflows with vivid imagery and descriptions that animate her recollections. When she loses her sense of smell to COVID, she confesses to missing “the vegetable reek of a mold-spotted cucumber. The urine tang or compost stink of my daughter’s drooping diapers.” And in those same frightening early days of the pandemic, Jamison recalls her daughter “pouring shards of pita chips down the neck of her rainbow llama pajamas” or how she “spent her days spearing Internet-delivered raspberries with the baby fork.”

Jamison reveals something of her post-separation dating life, including a relationship with a tall, tattooed musician who “played torch songs in dive bars all over the world” and refers to himself as a “professional tumbleweed.” It’s an intensely physical encounter in which she vainly pictures herself in a contented domestic partnership with a man “in love with the way he broke things” and for whom monogamy isn’t even a meaningful aspiration. In this relationship and one with a philosophy PhD turned hedge fund manager, she wrestles with her affinity for the unending passion of romantic life (she’s a “creature designed to fall in love, over and over again”) and the persistent need to please her partners, rooted in her relationship with her distant father.

By the end of SPLINTERS, Jamison achieves a sort of hard-earned peace, moving away from the idea of a divinity “who would give me enough gold stars if I did enough good things, and toward the mother who’d been here all along --- with less patience for my performances and more patience for everything else. I was living toward joy that was less about earning, and more about ambush. A joy you might call grace.” As this memoir reflects, she’s the kind of person --- and, above all, the kind of writer --- whose life certainly will never go unexamined. We’re all the beneficiaries of that gift.

Reviewed by Harvey Freedenberg on February 23, 2024

Splinters: Another Kind of Love Story
by Leslie Jamison

  • Publication Date: February 20, 2024
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • ISBN-10: 0316374881
  • ISBN-13: 9780316374880