Thursday, September 8, 2011

Dominique Browning's Slow Love: A Good Read Despite the Class Blinders

When BlogHer Announced Dominique Browning's Slow Love as one of options for the BlogHer book club, I wondered if given all the suffering of the millions of unemployed Americans, I could muster any sympathy for a very affluent woman who had lost her dream job. I decided, with some apprehension, to give it a try and my answer is a qualified yes. Despite Brown’s class blinders, her engaging writing style drew me in.

Browning had the advantage of not being singled out; the magazine she edited, House and Garden folded and all its employees were out of a job in one fell swoop. She also had the advantage of owning two houses—one which from the description appears to have been a very expensive house in the NYC suburbs, the other a recently refurbished vacation home on the Rhode Island coast. One of the most moving parts of the book was her description of the pain she felt about leaving a house she loved:

The problem is simple: I am in love with my house. I found it. I'm the one who, as a young wife and mother, recognized its potential under the layers of eccentric neglect. I directed its res- urrection and the renovation. I bought it again when our marriage faltered. I battled my way out of the depression that settled
over me after the divorce by slowly bringing my house back to gracious, hospitable life. I have spent years basking in the beatitude of this home… .

I can relate to this. I too am in love with my house. I’m 66, my husband is 70 and we both intend to stay here as long as we can. But I know that sooner or later, one way or another, I will leave the house I love. After my husband and son, there is nothing I love more than my house. It is certainly not prime real estate like Brown’s and I’m sure her garden was in better shape. (She was the editor of House and Garden after all) But my guess is my passion for my old house is as strong as hers.

Coming to terms with loss is a universal experience and for Browning there was the loss of her job, her house, and a long-term relationship. Her dysfunctional relationship with Stroller was one of the more perplexing parts of the book. What in the world did she see in someone so self- important, so self- absorbed? Eventually she faces reality and ends the relationship. Or so I thought. I was surprised to read in the acknowledgements:

Many thanks to Stroller for reading this manuscript with care and concern, and taking the time to comb thorough the pages, pointing out distortion and delight alike.

I sure hope for her sake this does not mean the relationship continues!

I especially liked Browning’s descriptions of gardening and of the aesthetics of everyday life. It takes so many of us a long time to learn how to savor the beauty and pleasures of everyday life:

All those inner resources that I have spent a lifetime developing have finally started kicking in again-those soul-saving habits of playfulness, most of all: reading, thinking, listening, being a friend, simply feeling my body move through the world, and finally, being open enough to notice the small beauty in every single day. The healing balm was there all along, nestled in a sofa that beckoned me to pick up a book, hovering outside the window inviting me to take a walk. It was just a matter of finding room in my life again for everything I love, and letting the
quiet of solitary moments steal over my heart.

On balance, I enjoyed the book but it was a demonstration of how those with economic privilege live in a class cocoon. They may be thoughtful engaging people, they may be good friends, and good parents etc., but writers like Brown can seem so oblivious to the pain outside their charmed circle.

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