Saturday, January 6, 2024

I’ve long had a penchant for memoirs – the devoted nature of narratives; the candid look at the lives of writers we wouldn’t otherwise see, and the nuanced vignettes-good and bad – that come together to compose the clutter of life. I had recently been reading Wanting, a collection of essays written by women about desire, when one of the book’s editors, Kelly McMasters, contacted me and asked if I might like a copy of her memoir, the Leaving Season. It came with praise from Joanna Rakoff – a writer who has become my go-to for reading recommendations lately – and so I gladly agreed, and earlier this week, as I was enjoying a damp, gloomy day in Bondi, I curled up in bed and started.

The book review of the start season

A book I loved, as soon as I saw the cover, I knew little about the author or the plot of the book before I started on it, but I was quickly drawn into the life of McMasters sailing through New York in their early 20s. Her first essay includes a poignant account of the fatal strike on the World Trade Center – an event that left McMasters in such a state of surprise that, plagued by fleeing the area, she tried to call her boss to let him know that she would not be coming to work that day.

What follows is the beginning and flowering of her relationship with a painter who lives in an art studio; and while McMasters initially keeps the lease for their apartment in Brooklyn, they soon forge a life together and get married – before moving to rural Pennsylvania to buy a run-down farm.

In a way I’ve never seen in any other memoir – McMasters spares readers a lot of details; we don’t hear about her marriage, and she covers much of her two pregnancies and the respective births of her sons; but what she gives us instead is a painfully nice glimpse into the intricacies of everyday farm life – far from the urban grey board of the city.

The honeysuckle heads, the piles of still steaming cow droppings, the loamy smells of the nearby countryside, the bar grates revealed after friends helped them tear down a blanket, the hard huffs of the deer in the forest; the explosion of greenery in the spring.

In this blur of rural life, we experience McMasters’ reverie, which comes to fruition when she opens a bookstore in the nearby town, and we also become aware of the irrevocable, icy distance between her and her husband, but – as she laments in the book; she might be facing a bankrupt business, but not a failed marriage.

A book that you want to enjoy and tear at the same time in one sitting, so engrossed that I was in the launch season that it took me a little more than a day to read it from cover to cover. devoted, lively and beautifully layered, it’s a hot portrait of loneliness, life and desire and without a doubt one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read.

Summary of the starting season

Kelly McMasters lived out her fantasy in her mid-30s: she had moved from New York to rural Pennsylvania with her husband, a painter, where her children roamed idyllic acres in rain boots and diapers. The pastoral landscape and the bookstore they opened were initially restorative for her and her marriage. But soon she was quietly planning her escape.

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