30 Books in 30 Days: 8.15.11

The Florist’s Daughter by Patricia Hampl

A little foray into the genre of memoir today.  My mom, one of my best reading buddies, someone I can share books with and talk about books with for hours, is not a memoir reader.  She can’t stand them.  I on the other hand, love memoir. I eat it up.  Maybe it’s the pure dishiness of it–getting the full scoop on the author’s personal life, everything from love life to friendships to family secrets to major successes and major low points. But, I think it’s not only this that keeps me coming back to this genre for more.  It’s the poetry of it.  The way that impressionistic details meld with narrative to form a beautiful evocation of a life.  Add in the analysis that also inevitably goes along with an author’s account of his or her life, and we have, to me, a perfect mix of the elements of fiction and non-fiction.  My mom’s main complaint about memoir is that it often lacks plot. And she is right on that.  It may be that I simply don’t need as much plot as she does in a good read.  I honestly could read the impressionistic detail paired with the next impressionistic detail for hours.  And of course, there are badly written memoirs, which, can account for some of the genre’s bad press.

The Florist’s Daughter by Patricia Hampl is not even Hampl’s best known work.  Her memoir A Romantic Education is a well-received work that portrays her search for her Eastern European roots.  She also has written a book of essays about the genre for memoir, I Could Tell You Stories: Sojourns in the Land of Memory, a work of great insight and intelligence.  These books, I might cover in a future post.  The Florist’s Daughter is a book I purchased because of my desire to get my hands on anything by Hampl.  After reading these other books, I wanted more!

When I started The Florist’s Daughter, I confess that I thought I had finally found a book of hers that was less than stunning. I put it down after the first 20 pages.  It seemed trite and perhaps a bit sad to me.  There it sat on my shelf for probably a year or two, before, in search of some good memoir, I took it out again, and begain reading in earnest.  And, I found that Hamp as I knew her was still there, in this book.  If anything, I found her insights and writing in here even perhaps a bit more light and translucent, their beauty and insight balanced and beautiful.

Hampl chronicles the decline of her mother’s health, holding vigil by her mother’s bedside.  These current day events give way to Hampl’s memories of her mother and father as she was growing up.  Hampl credits her mother’s avid storytelling with Hampl’s own poetic development.  But it is her father’s work as a florist that Hampl credits with giving her the eye for the important image, the important color, the important detail that makes her the writer she is.  The sense of place Hampl creates as the backdrop to her family life in Minnesota is beautiful.  And, Hampl portrays both the frustrations and heartbreaking moments of pain in her family’s history as well as the moments of mundane beauty that ultimately, serve to be everyone’s saving grace.


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