Review of You Could Make This Place Beautiful: A Memoir by Maggie Smith
Poet Maggie Smith's memoir traces the end of her marriage, weaving in the history and the future while she acknowledges that any story is only one person's reality and experience.
Life, like a poem, is a series of choices.
In You Could Make This Place Beautiful, poet Maggie Smith recounts her painful, prolonged divorce and her marriage, which was ending as she wrote this memoir.
The book is made up of many short sections, and much of Smith's exploration is focused on the way in which she chooses to write about and present her situation--both of which seem fitting for a writer and poet.
I'm trying to get to the truth, and I can't get there except by looking at the whole, even the parts I don't want to see. Maybe especially those parts. I've had to move into--and through--the darkness to find the beauty.
Through tracing the framework of and the growth and change of her relationship, Smith also explores gender roles, womanhood, motherhood, fury, loss, and a new fire for looking out for one's self.
It's a mistake to think of my life as a plot, but isn't this what I'm tasked with now--making sense of what happened by telling it as a story?
While Smith focuses on aspects such as the increased understanding she gained about the longtime structure of her marriage--the give and take (or lack thereof), the power imbalance, the resentment, the unspoken yearnings--You Could Make This Place Beautiful is not a laying-bare of emotional turmoil, and in a way the writing about it feels like a somewhat dispassionate exercise despite the topic.
Yet her language is beautiful, evocative, and full of pain, resolve, reflection, anger, discovery, and resignation.
I hover like a camera on a boom over those two young people, just kids, and I pity them because they have no idea what's coming.
Smith deliberately presents the book not as a "tell-all" but a "tell-mine," repeatedly acknowledging that she can only tell her side of the story, built upon facts but only those she chooses to share; built on feelings, but only her feelings; built on resulting repercussions, but only those she chooses to acknowledge and share.
The author mentions much of the music she finds powerful and inspiring or comforting, and she references other poets' work and her own. I found myself noting and saving much of this gorgeousness.
This book is powered by questions, many of them unanswerable, so their fuel burns forever.
I received a prepublication edition of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Atria Books.
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