This Life Is In Your Hands by Melissa Coleman (DNF)

Well, this is too bad. I was looking forward to This Life Is In Your Hands. It’s a memoir set in Maine (where I grew up), and about a family that seeks to live off the land on an organic farm in the 1970’s. Unfortunately, after giving the book the ol’ 50-page try and I found I just could not continue further.

As I often do when I’m about to abandon a book, I scanned down the Goodreads reviews, seeking affirmation for my decision.  And this phrase by a reviewer named Miri hit on one of my major problems with the book: “It’s all too much, tries too hard to be epic and ethereal and philosophical.”

Ironically, on Miri’s own blog through the looking-glass (which I found just now while looking up her GR review) she quotes someone else’s GR review, a review that also had affirmed me in my decision to stop reading This Life is in Your Hands.

But yes, let’s get direct now, what are my thoughts on the book. Well, the word “overwritten” popped into my head as soon as I finished reading the prologue. An excerpt from the prologue:

As Mama whooshed out the screen door with hair flowing and child-on-back, the kitchen breathed chopped parsley and vegetable soup simmering on the stove, and the light glowed through the kitchen windows onto the crooked pine floors of the old farmhouse where I stood waiting.

It was a charmed summer, that summer of 1975, even more so because we didn’t know how peaceful it was in comparison to the one that would follow . . .

As the bell chimed, Helen took my small hand and turned it upward in hers. The kitchen was warm, but her skin cool and leathery. Mama returned with Heidi as I stood long-hair-braided and six-years-brave, holding my breath.

p. 1-2

I totally get that there’s some beautiful language there, but the writing is so heavy with the strain of earnestness and portent. It’s hard to convey with just a short excerpt, and I probably sound unduly harsh as a result, but I couldn’t get past how labored the writing came across to me in all the pages that I read. Obviously, the writing style will suit some readers more than others. But for those readers who often find that too-beautiful writing is also inert, I’m writing this DNF review for you.

But it’s more than the writing style that made me throw in the towel at 50 pages. Coleman writes about her parents’ lives from before she was born and when she was an infant, as if it was something she remembered, as if she knew what was going on in their heads at the time. It’s a risky writing gambit, and one can see the appeal of not having to couch each strictly parental moment with attributions and citing sources. Still, it was weird to read passages like the following about events that occurred when the author was just a baby:

“What?” Mama asked, propping on one elbow to reveal her sleep-weary face and matted hair. Papa’s blue eyes met her brown ones with a twinkle, the touch of premature gray in his hair a foil to the youthfulness of his mood.

“Get up, come see,” he said, disappearing down the ladder. A thrill lit up her spine.

p. 42

It is obvious that Coleman is proud of her parents despite all that eventually happened (the events of which I know from the book jacket). But that vestigial reverence combined with the writing style and the oddly omniscient viewpoint combine to make her parents not seem like real people – in fact, to be strangely uninteresting to me as a reader, despite the interesting things they did.

Sorry for going on so long on a did-not-finish book, but I’m not always able to articulate why I stop reading a book, so I find it gratifying when I can articulate it.

Others’ reviews:

5 minutes for books – “The writing is absolutely riveting and it makes for a great read for anyone who likes memoir, especially those who might be interested in organic farming and natural foods.”

my books. my life – “It’s a book that will make you evaluate the important things in life as you reflect on the Coleman’s attempt at homesteading.”

Sophisticated Dorkiness (the review that made me pick up the book) – “Coleman’s writing is elegant. I loved the way she captured herself and her family at different moments in time — contrasting the idealism and and uncertainty of different ages and times with ease.”

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “This Life Is In Your Hands by Melissa Coleman (DNF)

  1. This one was just okay for me. I learned something new, but I didn’t quite like the writing style. Here is my review if you are interested. http://mentalfoodie.blogspot.com/2011/04/book-review-this-life-is-in-your-hands.html

  2. Nice review, Christy! Sorry to know that you didn’t like the book. I actually liked the excerpt that you posted, though I can see your point of view with respect to that – the sentences go on and on without ending. Reminds me of Marcel Proust 🙂 I also like the cover picture of the book. Sometimes it happens that we pick up a book based on different influences – either we liked a review of it, or we liked the cover image or we liked what we read on the back cover – but the book doesn’t seem to live up to its promise. Recently I read a YA book and felt the same way. Hope you enjoy the next memoir you read.

  3. Hahaha, it’s so nice to hear that I’m not the only one who feels guilty abandoning a book without getting affirmation from another review that I’m not the only one who was bothered by [insert book problem here]. I do that all the time. I search the Book Blogs Search Engine for the title of the book plus an uncomplimentary adjective. :p

  4. Good review, even if you didn’t like the book. I really loved this one, it hit just the perfect spot for me when I read it. Maybe going back I’d see some of the same things, I’m not sure 🙂

  5. Christa – Thanks for the link to your review!
    Vishy – Yeah, I think the excerpt doesn’t quite capture what I’m getting at. That said, it’s possible that if you really liked the writing based on my excerpt, you would like the book overall.
    Jenny – Yay, glad to know that I’m not alone in that practice, either.
    Kim – I can definitely how the book could be appealing – it just was not for me. 🙂

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