It's very clever. A book about yoga, that's not really about yoga. Claire Dederer writes a memoir told through 23 yoga postures – an incredibly savvy marketing technique because everyone is interested in yoga these days. And I'm glad the marketing ensnared me, anyway, as I probably wouldn't have picked up a memoir about motherhood in Seattle in the 1990s.
Dederer tells the story of being a young mother, trying to do everything 'right' and how yoga helped her to realize that life is more about being real and joyful than being 'good'. She weaves in her own mother's story – and that of her mother's contemporaries – a group of women who in the 1970s decided they had been sold a bum deal with the whole marriage and motherhood thing, and fled their husbands in a sort of mass migration.
I found it striking that every generation has its backlash and new ideal. For Dederer and her contemporaries, being a good mother and staying married became the ultimate antidote to what they perceived as their own mothers' familial betrayal. And it involved a heck of a lot of cloth diapers and wooden toys from Europe. Only a decade or so later and I think there are a lot of women who will identify with this. Although I'm not a mother, I have plenty of friends who are and I observe their struggle to do things 'right' – stories of women in their area who have a strict 'schedule' for their babies and can't get together at certain times because they are beholden to it. There's also a lot of guilt going around about breast feeding – or more accurately when there's a lack of it.
Dederer is brutally honest – the main component, I believe, of a great memoir. And she addresses some of the key questions of our time: what defines family and what really matters in life. I found the perspective she comes to in the end about her marriage and her husband's depression enlightening as well (mainly it's OK and doesn't need to be 'fixed'). Which made me think that maybe my contemporaries' main obsession – of trying to be 'perfect' – is not far removed from Dederer's own age group's obsession of being 'good'. Perfection these days is de rigueur, whether it refers to looks, size, relationships or real estate.
There's a lot of talk of yoga thrown in, which was quite interesting from my perspective as I only practice one kind and am keen to learn more about yoga in general. I was surprised at the depth of this memoir as from the outside cover one would be forgiven for thinking it's about yoga, and maybe shopping or wine (some sort of melange of Sex and the City and triangle pose), which certainly doesn't do the book justice. But that's marketing for you. And to be fair, using yoga to structure the book does work well. After all, you can write a great book, but you still have to get people to read it.
© 2015 Mind, Body & Scroll.