The Best of Us: A Memoir by Joyce Maynard

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“Our life together: What we had imagined. What we got.”

Truer words were never written. It never plays out as we imagine, does it? Joyce Maynard shares with us her own love story, a sort of second life that she didn’t expect nor necessarily think she wanted. In her late fifties Joyce found love in Jim, at an age when people treat women like their ‘off the shelf, finished, done, a husk’ her true love entered. There is a memory she shares from her first marriage, when she was surprised by the many people that showed up to hear her speak  and called home that night only to have her husband tell her “Just don’t come back with a swelled head”, the reader can’t help but feel the crush of it. To be witness to Jim’s arrival in Joyce’s life, submerged in the memories of Jim and the love they shared before his illness reached in like a thief, is a painful journey the author has bravely shared and a gift for any reader. The fight to ‘beat this thing’, to be the special one that can eat the right things, find the perfect treatment… well how can one not hope?

This is one of the most vulnerable memoirs I’ve read. The willingness to share the ‘earthquakes’ in her life, to expose all her wounds for our judgement- I’ve always felt there is a certain bravery in memoir. Maynard shares too the painful decisions she made with her adoptive daughters, and it had me thinking about the knee jerk reactions so many of us (myself included) have about others, famous or not, and their life choices. We have a habit of not thinking about the everyday struggles other’s face, that sometimes what may seem like a ‘Cruella De Vil ‘ move may have been the hardest step someone took and a selfless one at that.

I wonder, as I arrive each year with more disasters behind me, because we are nothing if not imperfect creatures, how we know love so much better in the second half of our lives. Here we are with our war wounds, grounded, maybe a bit defeated by our earlier idealism not just about love but family too that maybe the second half of our lives is the meat. Yes, it’s a given Jim dies at the end, but that isn’t the story. The story is their love, the fragility of time, the pain of hope and the crushing weight of loss. It’s not over for Joyce, and Jim is still with her, he was her guard dog- that sort of love remains forever.

I read that Joyce Maynard, selling her lover JD Salinger’s (yes that Salinger) letters was quoted as saying ‘I’d rather put my children through college than own a box of Salinger’s letters.”  Is that terrible? I have two kids in college at the same time, my lord if only I had a box of letters of my own! Writers are loud mouths, famous or not, we cannot shut up- scribbling furiously, story tellers, observers that must share their experience,  some of us in journals no one ever sees, others publishing their truth, there is something very interesting about this woman! He truth is biting, she doesn’t hide and I admire that.

I sometimes think about those in the spotlight and feel relief I am nobody, free to live my life without the entire world’s opinions about a life they haven’t spent one day in. Memoir is a strip tease, and those of us who are honest know we aren’t all beautiful underneath our clothes, we are flawed and Joyce admit this- even in her love with Jim she shares the ugly truth. There were times she resented the illness, anyone who has ever seen a loved one through sickness knows it’s not beautiful, it’s exhausting for the caretaker too- why is that such a shameful thing to admit?

It’s hard to read, because suffering is so unfair- as if the universe is picking on you and most especially your loved one. Is their final breath relief? Yes and God No! This is such a painful death and love story.

Publication Date: September 5, 2017

Bloomsbury USA

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