Lured by all the buzz, I just finished reading Dani Shapiro’s latest memoir, Devotion. As usual, I was reading on two or three levels. First comes the story. For the most part our stories are entirely different, and I was fascinated by this inside glimpse inside the secret life of a blond Jew raised Orthodox, nearly a generation younger than I.

Beneath the surface, perhaps they aren’t so different. I relate to her sense of not quite fitting in anywhere. I relate to her patchwork, grab a little here, add a pinch of that spirituality and constant search for answers. I won’t tell whether she shared her answers or not — I don’t want to give away her plot.

Perhaps I should say, what little plot there is. That takes me to the next level of reading, exploring her structure. The 243-page book is divided into 102 chapters, some as short as half a page. Many are fully developed scenes, replete with dialogue, description and tension, more are not. Reading it is much like a conversation with a friend — it jumps across time and topics like a grasshopper. Perhaps  the structure can be seen as a metaphor for the recurring Monkey Mind phenomenon that constantly asserts itself during her yoga and meditation practice. A few times it seemed as if she should have mentioned things much earlier. For example, she tells of events occurring near the time her son was preparing for his bar mitzvah and a couple of chapters later she writes of something else that occurred when Jacob was three.

Conversation is like that, full of “Have I ever told you about the time …?” topic changes. The difference here is that we can’t ask her questions to ease the transitions.

I love that the book is warmly and intimately written without a trace of arrogance. I love its ring of Truth. In spite of the jumping around, it does fit together like a finely crafted puzzle. I like the simplicity of giving each vignette, no matter how tiny, its own chapter rather than trying to clump them together. I like that she didn’t limit herself to a formal story flow. And I admire that within this seeming chaos, a certain story thread does emerge. Recurring themes do become apparent and develop. I have a hunch that it may be even more challenging to weave together this casual sense of organized chaos than to use a narrative approach.

There is no way to use her book as a template, but I am encouraged and motivated by her unstructured structure.

I’m back to writing fee-standing stories again.

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