A New York Times Notable Book: To truly understand herself, Doris Grumbach embraces solitude
With a busy career as a novelist, essayist, reviewer, and bookstore owner, Doris Grumbach has little opportunity to be alone. However, after seventy-five years on the planet, she finally has her chance: Her partner has departed for an extended book-buying trip, and Grumbach has been given fifty days to relax, think, and write about her experience.
In this graceful memoir, Grumbach delicately balances the beauty of turning one’s back on everything with the hardship of complete aloneness. Even as she attends church and collects her mail, she moves like a shadow, speaking to no one. Left only to her books and music in the midst of a Maine winter, she must look within herself for solace. The result of this reflection is a powerful meditation on the meaning of aging, writing, and one’s own company—and reaffirmation of the power of friends and companionship.
This quiet, elegantly written memoir by critic, novelist and essayist Grumbach ( Coming into the End Zone ) sensitively depicts the mingled pleasure and privation of turning one's back on the world. In the winter of 1993, with her companion away on a book-buying trip, the author decided ``to attempt a trial return to the core of myself, staying absolutely alone'' in their house in Sargentville, Maine. She shut off the phone and didn't watch television; although she went into town to collect her mail and attend church, Grumbach avoided speaking with the postmistress and fellow parishioners. Music and books were her only companions as she observed the natural world outside and wrestled with her own work indoors. It was a tranquil yet often somber experience: ``My mail,'' she notes, ``contained an inordinate amount of bad news,'' particularly about friends whose deaths prompted thoughts of her own mortality. In the book's most moving passages, she recalls a young dancer's slow demise from AIDS and the suicide of a writing student, the latter a chilling account of Grumbach's inability to help a tortured man who felt utterly alone. The author does not pretend to offer big revelations here, merely the intimate story of one woman's immersion in ``the universal solitude in which we all have lived, try as we might to escape it.'' 20,000 first printing; author tour.