Woolf loves her symbols — and she’s good at them ... Woolf interrogates both the conventional narratives of femininity and motherhood that kept her in a marriage she hated and the infidelity and lies that felt like her only way out ... All of This is a lot. Woolf is at her best when deep in the details, conjuring her experience onto the page with her rich command of imagery, metaphor, and symbol ... When Woolf tries to make her story into something bigger, she is less compelling. Her forceful declarations — on men, women, death, sex, widowhood, stories, memoirs — run a gamut from convincing to banal to meaningless. Her ruminative rambles are as repetitive as they are revealing ... We read memoirs of crisis and self-discovery to recognize ourselves and observe others. For some readers, Woolf’s lacerating commitment to her truth and to refusing the good widow narrative will resonate and reassure. Others may find it self-serving. Fortunately, there are more than enough truths to go around.
... eschews any such flattering postmortem revisions in favor of the messy, freeing truth ... Woolf does not mince words or deal in niceties in this memoir ... an all-encompassing portrait of a marriage that didn't work, and Woolf is as unflinchingly honest about that marriage as she is about the experience of loss that terminated it.
From the opening salvo, Woolf makes it clear to readers that this is not going to be a traditional grief memoir. Rather, it is a forthright portrait of one marriage, and the things that came after. From digging desperately through her jewelry drawer in search of the wedding ring she took off years ago to having frank discussions about her dating and sexuality with her four children after their father dies, Woolf takes readers on a journey that is nothing if not unforgettable. Is it comfortable or comforting? No, but it is brutally honest and empowering tale of a woman who emerges from her marriage and her husband’s final illness like a butterfly from a chrysalis—not neatly or painlessly, but nonetheless beautiful to behold ... Be prepared to laugh, to cry, and possibly to be mortified at the level of detail Woolf feels comfortable sharing; but in the end, readers will definitely be glad they got on this roller coaster with her.
Woolf is at her best when delving into the fast and brutal progression of Hal’s illness. Her account of his final months is unflinching and brutally precise. Woolf has taken an inventory of the barbaric accouterments of illness, and she presses these details into her scenes like spikes. The barf bags and spit cups, the sponge pops and no-slip socks, the folding canes that give way to tennis-ball-padded walkers and then wheelchairs: It’s a singular category of horror and she nails it ... as competently as Woolf handles the death, the desire leaves rather too much lying naked on the page, simultaneously overwrought and undercooked ... you can’t help getting the feeling that she wasn’t sure where to take the story after Hal’s death, so decided to throw every self-empowerment bromide she could summon onto the page ... The result is a salmagundi of boilerplate #MeToo musings, wannabe bad girl confessions and elliptical woo-speak dressed up as deep thoughts, at which Woolf is exceptionally adept.
Woolf skillfully and honestly foreshadows what’s to come when she confesses that she is 'not the first and certainly not the last wife to bury a husband she didn’t want to be married to anymore' ... Readers grappling with feelings of both grief and liberation may find it comforting to hear Woolf talk so candidly about feeling 'relieved to be alone.' Moms who believe in being open with their kids will find a kindred spirit, too.
By turns disturbing and profound, this intimate book about one woman’s path to personal liberation also reveals the sometimes-labyrinthine nature of the bonds that unite people in love and marriage ... A provocative and memorable work of autobiography.