Sarah Einstein on Abigail Thomas’ Safekeeping

Sarah Einstein is the author of Mot: A Memoir SarahEinstein(University of Georgia Press 2015), Remnants of Passion (Shebooks 2014), and numerous essays and short stories. Her work has been awarded a Pushcart Prize, a Best of the Net, and the AWP Prize in Creative Nonfiction. She is currently a PhD candidate in Creative Writing with a secondary specialty in Rhetoric and Composition at Ohio University.

This Wednesday, I’m rereading Abigail Thomas’ Safekeeping. This is perhaps the eighth or ninth copy of the book I’ve owned, because it’s also the book I most give away, although it’s nearly a tie with the author’s equally lovely Three Dog Life. There is also a copy on my iPad. I don’t turn to that one often; it’s the kind of book where the physicality of the prose matters, all that white space on the page, and white space on a screen just doesn’t have the same impact. But I keep it there, and therefore nearly also always with me, because I talk about writing a lot—with colleagues, with students, with people at parties who wish that I would talk about something else, for the love of God!—and I find myself returning to it again to talk about some element of craft: first, second, and third person perspectives, direct address, oblique address, the function of line breaks in prose, the construction of crots, etc. Really, there is an entire primer on the art and craft of creative nonfiction embedded in this book. I’ve used it as the central text in a beginning creative nonfiction workshop, and it works very well for that. But that isn’t why I’m rereading it today.

There is an alchemy to this book that creates a particular intimacy with the reader. Written in short, titled sections, the memoir constructs the author’s persona in the same way we learn about the lives of our friends; through discontinuous anecdote, overheard conversations, and direct statements to the reader. And it’s an intimacy that I often crave, because Thomas is writing as a woman in mid-life about her whole life, not just about the extraordinary events of it. And that’s a voice we don’t hear often enough. As a woman within spitting distance of fifty who is also a graduate student, I’m surrounded by many wonderful colleagues but most of them are in their twenties and thirties. Sometimes I get lonely for the company of women my own age. Thomas’ books help to fill that loneliness.

Thomas’ new book, due out later this month, is titled What Comes Next and How to Like It: A Memoir. So I am also rereading Safekeeping, and next Three Dog Life, in order to remind myself of what she has already written before the next part of the conversation unfolds. I’m very excited about this new book. What comes next feels very frightening to me, and the “How to Like It” in the title makes me hopeful. And isn’t this what the best memoir does? It shows us the ways in which we are not alone in the world, and invites us to come to understand our own lives more clearly by taking us beyond them, into the lives of others.

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