April, 2001 (hardcover originally published by Knopf, 2000)
Chosen by: Amye Archer
Maybe it’s the educator in me, but I have, throughout my reading lifetime, creating a series of benchmarks that a book must reach in order to resonate with me.Â Safekeeping, the exquisite memoir written by Abigail Thomas, not only hit each one of those benchmarks, but redefined some of them.
A story of Thomas’ three marriages, or more importantly, the divorce from and subsequent death of her second husband, Safekeeping is a patchwork of grief and love:
I am remembering this time just before I knew you, and then I knew you, and then you died.Â It makes the parenthesis within I lived most of my life.Â Not knowing you, knowing you, and then you died.Â Â Â
Before his death, their relationship was complicated, a ball of yarn with no beginning and no end.Â Thomas writes of their time together with a fierce honesty, striking familiar chords in the center of wives and lovers everywhere:
Once upon a time when they were married, he was always upset.Â With her housekeeping, with her cooking.
No, you’re not crazy.Â Yes, those quotes are in varied points of view.Â The whole memoir is structured that way.Â First person, second person, third… Thomas switches in and out of narrative voice like they are dresses she can’t choose between, but wears all of them beautifully.
But be not afraid.Â This memoir is not the least bit cryptic.Â Because Thomas creates a very clever technique to keep us on track.Â Every so often, when the reader is just starting to scratch their head, Thomas throws in a conversation with her sister which clarifies everything.Â The first, only 13 pages in, provides the logistics of Thomas’ marital history:
There are a lot of husbands floating around, my sister says.
Well yes, I say.Â I married three times.
That’s what I’m saying.Â A lot of husbands.Â Somebody’s going to get confused.Â Maybe even annoyed.
Well then I’ll spell it out.
And she does.Â Thomas has a talent for sensing when some context is needed, and these conversations with her sister are not only clarifying, they are often funny and light-hearted.
What I love so much about this book is Thomas’ ability to capture the ache of humanity in her prose.Â The divorce from her second husband is played out through most of the book, and the author writes about the split like some would write about falling in love. Â TheirÂ journey hard and sad and fraught with pain, but it’s beauty and sweetness too, because the friendship these two once-lovers emerge with isÂ something genuine and tender.
I can’t remember what made us friends again.Â Was there a moment in particular?Â I wish you were here.Â Was it my first grandchild?…We ate together at the same table again, and it wasn’t your table or mine, but my daughter’s…There was a lot of snow, we were all together.Â Was that it?
Safekeeping is a series of vignettes that mimic memory.Â Some good, some bad, some shorter than others, but all vital to shaping the portrait of a marriage, a friendship, and, ultimately, a deep loss.Â Thomas is a master of her craft, and Safekeeping serves as strong testimony to that fact.
Amye Archer wuz here.
Have a book that you just can’t quit? Â Send it to Amye (at) Pank Magazine (dot) com.