by Mary Robison
Counterpoint Press, 2001
Review by Patricia Ferguson, Ph.D. on Dec 23rd 2002
The reason for the title of the book, Why Did I
Ever by Mary Robison, is never really made clear in her 200-page novel. The
book is written in a diary format, with most entries numbered. The entries that
are not numbered are given a title that sometimes explains the entry, at other
times seems to be more of a non sequitur.
The book looks like just the kind of book I would
love. It is written by a woman, and is about a woman who sounds at first much
like the voice of one of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott. Although I have
never read anything else by Robison, she has apparently written well enough in
the past to have earned many awards. However, this book does not make me want
to look back at her earlier writings.
Frankly, if it hadnt been for the book jacket, I
wouldnt have known what she was talking about most of the time. As far as I
could tell, the book doesnt have a beginning, middle, or an end. One entry
doesnt follow from another, and the ones that follow up earlier entries are so
far apart that I had to look back to see what she had said about the same topic
I would like to tell you what the plot is, but Im
not sure. Her life is extremely chaotic, as is her thinking. It is possible that her style of writing was
meant to show that inner chaos, and if so, she succeeded. The difficulty for
the reader is that
Although I say all these things about this book, the
fact is, there were times when she made me laugh out loud. An example: What
the hell kind of drug do I take to get out of this moment? Yet, I made notes
to myself in the book such as What are we talking about here? and Who is
talking to whom? I was hoping to find the answers, but I really had to focus
to stay with it. I dont mind a complicated book but it isnt that its
complicated. Its just hard to follow.
It seems that she is on a trip to see her son, and
the vignettes are descriptions of events that occur on her trip. I use the word
seems because it really is hard to follow the story, as I said. Anyway, the
heroine has many problems besides a son in trouble. She has been married
several times, has a boyfriend she doesnt seem to like, and fears she is
losing her job as a screenwriter. Writers are taught to Show Dont Tell.
Robison shows but never tells, to an extreme. I find that unfortunate because I
think somewhere in there is a good plot and some good characters, but the style
of writing makes it hard for the reader to care.
The novel comes together a bit if the reader decides
to stick it out to the end. The characters and their relationship to her become
more evident, as does the plot. Also, some of her more humorous entries are
when she ends her sentences with a question. They tend to go something like
this: And I did this why? or You came here why? It doesnt sound so funny
out of context here, but in context they are
It was hard to stay with this book. I have so many good books to read that I dont want to
waste time on this but I do because there must be something to this. After all,
she has won all these prestigious awards. What am I missing?
I am a reader, and a reviewer. But I am a reader,
first, and that is whom she should be concerned with. Perhaps I should take a
look at the earlier books, stories, whatever she has written before this that
has won her so many awards. Then maybe it will make more sense, and be
enjoyable to read. Perhaps you, too, have a favorite author whose voice you
love, and no matter what they write, you love it, because you understand their
voice. I think that this may be the case with this author. Since I havent read
any of her earlier books, I have no reference, and I think that may have made a
huge difference in enjoying or not enjoying this book.
I really did want to like this book. I bet if I
recommended it to other women who like similar books that I do, at least half
of them would like it. But I also think the other half would struggle to get
it, and so I would not recommend this book to any of my friends. But I would
probably, for myself, go and look for some of Robisons earlier works and find
the really good novels that have won her the awards. Those books might show me
why I didnt understand this book, too.
© 2002 Patricia Ferguson
Dr. Patricia Ferguson
is a licensed clinical psychologist in northern California. She is also a
published freelance writer and editor in many different areas, including
ADVANCE for radiation technicians, MedioCom, and The Journal of Interpersonal
Violence. She was honored to be placed in Who's Who of Women for the Year 2000.
Her areas of interest are varied. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from San
Diego State University and received her doctorate from Nova University in
Florida. She enjoys traveling, camping, and playing guitar. She also has
sold a few pieces of her artwork. Most importantly to her, she enjoys her
family time, including her husband, daughter, 20, and son, 14.