A marriage presented as mosaic
Dani Shapiro is a novelist and short story writer, but above all she is a memoirist. In her three earlier memoirs—Slow Motion, Devotion and Still Writing—Shapiro used the lens of her own life to explore family tragedy, the search for meaning and the act of writing. In her latest memoir, Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage, she examines her marriage to journalist and screenwriter Michael Maren.
By almost every measure, they have a strong marriage: They’ve been together for 18 years, coped with their young son’s rare and dangerous illness and succeeded in a business where very few people thrive. And yet, like every other marriage, there are fault lines. Maren, a former war correspondent, is addicted to adrenaline, and Shapiro fears that he regrets their safe life. She is also terrified that they will end their lives in poverty. They are both haunted by the deaths and illnesses of their parents. In Hourglass, Shapiro paints a beautiful portrait of a marriage that miraculously flourishes despite fear and guilt.
This is not a chronology of a marriage: It is a memoir, and while the lives we lead are linear, our memories rarely are. Shapiro analyzes her marriage by linking together the memories of seemingly unrelated events, recounting each episode with clarity and beauty. The story of Maren’s futile battle with an annoying woodpecker deepens the meaning of Shapiro’s rediscovery of her old journals. In a particularly moving episode, Shapiro recalls a vision of her grandchildren playing with her friend’s grandchildren. The golden beauty of that dream may never come true, but nonetheless its very existence becomes a real part of the structure of the marriage.
Together these memories form a reality that is as diaphanous, fragile and as surprisingly resilient as a spider web. Hourglass is not only a profound and moving reflection on Shapiro’s marriage, but on all marriages.
This article was originally published in the April 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.