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From Publishers Weekly
Shetterly, who chronicled her cross-country trip from L.A. to Maine for NPR's Weekend Edition, offers this deeper look into her emotional and geographic journey. The recession hit Maine hard in late 2007. Shetterly and her husband, caught off guard, struggled to make a living. Friends in California beckoned the pair, with tales of a sunnier, more prosperous, and stable life. The optimistic young couple, together with their dog and cat, set out for Los Angeles in 2008. A year later, depressed and broke, toting a new baby and minus one pet, they drove back home to Maine, settling in with Shetterly's mother. "My anger had fueled me to the point of outrage—how could America let me down this way? How could America do this to families? Wasn't it just yesterday we were watching Sex and the City and buying fabulous ÿlifestyles' on maxed out credit cards? What had changed overnight?" In this compelling narrative, Shetterly reveals all the messy, mundane details of lives coming undone. However, as she acknowledges sadly, it's her observations on the reduced American lifestyle that give her commentary an edge. Readers would be wise to heed her commentary on the loss of our small towns, homelessness, joblessness and the increasing economic divisions between Americans. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
With this twenty-first-century recession memoir, Shetterly is going to get a lot of feedback from those who have found themselves in similar situations. As she carefully documents in a book that provided the framework for a series of NPR Weekend Edition diary installments, she and her husband, along with their pets, hit the highway in 2008, looking for success in California. Leaving Maine was a huge risk for the young couple, but one filled with promise, especially with potential career advancement in the entertainment industry. Instead, they faced rental traumas, an unplanned pregnancy, and the dawning realization that the economic downturn was personal. Shetterly�s willingness to address her own shortcomings makes for a deeply personal and riveting, alternately funny and poignant read. As the couple, new baby in tow, heads back east to the safety of family, she struggles to find the teachable moment in all that has gone wrong. Forget the Cleavers. Shetterly�s is the new American family, and the faster we realize that, the better we all will be at coping. --Colleen Mondor
Caitlin Shetterly (www.caitlinshetterly.com) is a frequent contributor to National Public Radio where she reports on arts and culture, food, and lifestyle. She can be heard on both All Things Considered and Weekend Edition. For Weekend Edition, she created a series of autobiographical audio diaries about the Recession under the title Diary of a Recession. These diaries, along with her blog, Passage West, inspired her memoir Made For You and Me: Going West, Going Broke, Finding Home (Voice, March 8, 2011).
Caitlin's first book, Fault Lines: Stories of Divorce, was published by the Putnam Berkley Group in 2001. For several years, she wrote a bimonthly column, "Bramhall Square," about relationships and love for the Portland Phoenix.
Caitlin is the Founder and Artistic Director of the Winter Harbor Theatre Company, where she produces and directs works that attempt to tackle the important issues of our time. Caitlin graduated with Honors in English and American Literature from Brown University. She lives with her husband, photographer Daniel E. Davis, their young son, and their salty dog, Hopper. When she isn't writing, directing plays, producing radio pieces, cooking, cleaning or childrearing, Caitlin spends as much time as possible reading, watching "Friday Night Lights" and, especially, walking outside in nature.
Caitlin can write, but it is hard to overlook that she is a priviledged, well educated adult who is constantly bailed out by her parents and others. She can write because, as she says in the beginning of the book, she rents the best apartment daddy can afford, has a great view of the city and ocean and lighthouses, sets up a great little study, cooks up her organic, delicious meals, and basically has the luxury that few people have to pursue the creative life full-time. She and her husband are dreamers, which is wonderful; they get pregnant because they aren't careful with birth control -- bringing another life into the world when you are not self-sufficient isn't a serious concern for them. They sign up for MaineCare when they get home for healthcare. Pathetic and infuriating that people who work full-time+ to support their families and earn benefits are bailing out Caitlin, her husband and kid. So, Caitlin can write, but she left this reader queasy.
This book is the type of book that I often find myself reading and enjoying and this book is no exception. So, why only 3 stars?
Although I think that this author is an excellent writer and I enjoy the main storyline, I can't really enjoy - well the main character, which in this case is the actual author. Sorry.
Actually,I should say that I don't really enjoy what the main character does throughout the book, but more importantly what kind of message she seems to be sending (and sounding somewhat proud of?). While it seems to me the author can't seem to plant any roots anywhere for very long (which is fine), what is less fine is the fact that she expects everyone around her to bail her out - despite her choices.
I think what bugs me about the book is that underlying tone that your choices don't have consequences. I was completely shocked when I read the passage about how she found out she was preganant - wow! talk about not worrying about the future. She sounded like a 14 year old teenager! and when she ends up with morning sickness that lasts all day (and for several months), surprise, surprise, she describes how unfortunate she is, having to lay around all day, while her poor husband basically does all the work and then some. Yet, the author asks us (expects us) to feel sorry for her?
The writing is good, but I just could not enjoy this memoir - I guess because the author's views on life are just so different than mine.
Writing is repetitive, the writer is self absorbed and prone to tantrums. It gets tiring hearing a woman who has the maturity level of a 13 year old, but who is in her early 30s, whines continually about her life when most of it seems to have been financed by Dad. Can't feed a family of 3 (one an infant) on $100 a week? Seriously? Go to consumer credit counseling, track your expenses dear, and travel to a part of the world where hardship is more than the inability to eat out every night. Like great swaths of the world. Like parts of Portland, Maine (the sections of town that do NOT feature $1200 apartments).
I really wanted to like this book. This is supposed to be a classic travel-across-America adventure, and the book makes explicit references to Grapes of Wrath and Little House of the Prairie. The vast majority of the author's hardships are totally self-inflicted, though, which makes the story no less tragic but does leave the reader with a sense that the author's world view is entirely self-referential and basically immature. I wondered to myself if the author could possibly be so lacking in insight that she actually saw her experiences as being in any way comparable to the victims of the Great Depression. Yes, she did. Starting with the book's title, a reference to Woody Guthrie, and other explicit connections to Steinbeck.
So, here's the story. The author grew up with plenty--apparently both she and her parents were recipients of substantial financial gifts from her parents' parents. She attended Brown University and studied English. She kicked around New York for a while, moved back to Maine and met and married Dan, an aspiring photographer. So far, so good. She had it better than most Americans. She and Dan then decided that their careers would be better in LA. They quit their jobs, moved to LA, and rented an apartment in Venice Beach despite having no income and living on their credit cards. They were financially on the edge as soon as they moved. When the author accidentally got pregnant and neither she nor her husband could find work that paid well, they were in a serious financial crisis.
The baby was born healthy, but they were flat busted broke. The return to Main. They go on Maine's version of Medicaid so they can get free health benefits. So they left LA and drove home and lived with the author's mom.Read more ›
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Ms. Shetterly does a good job of capturing her emotions surrounding the events of her family's abortive life in LA and the aftermath when they moved back home to Maine. There are passages where her descriptions of place are truly lyrical. Overall, though, the book didn't resonate with me. Hers is a difficult experience - yet despite what I felt were attempts to make it some universal reflection of the recent recession, I only ever felt that it was hers personally. And I'm not really sure that it could be blamed entirely on the recession. Many newly married and just starting out couples go through bouts of unemployment and need to go home. I enjoyed seeing the author find some of the grace that accompanied her disappointments - healed family relationships, an ability to focus on the most important things. But overall, I felt that in trying to be the "representative face of the recession", Ms. Shetterly somehow diluted the power of her personal story.
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