You Could Make This Place Beautiful
- Expected Apr 11, 2023
“[Smith]...reminds you that you can...survive deep loss, sink into life’s deep beauty, and constantly, constantly make yourself new.” —Glennon Doyle, #1 New York Times bestselling author
Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2023 by Good Housekeeping, Goodreads, Zibby Mag, Newsweek, BookPage, and LitHub
The bestselling poet and author of the “powerful” (People) and “luminous” (Newsweek) Keep Moving offers a lush and heartrending memoir exploring coming of age in your middle age.
“Life, like a poem, is a series of choices.”
In her memoir You Could Make This Place Beautiful, poet Maggie Smith explores the disintegration of her marriage and her renewed commitment to herself in lyrical vignettes that shine, hard and clear as jewels. The book begins with one woman’s personal, particular heartbreak, but its circles widen into a reckoning with contemporary womanhood, traditional gender roles, and the power dynamics that persist even in many progressive homes. With the spirit of self-inquiry and empathy she’s known for, Smith interweaves snapshots of a life with meditations on secrets, anger, forgiveness, and narrative itself. The power of these pieces is cumulative: page after page, they build into a larger interrogation of family, work, and patriarchy.
You Could Make This Place Beautiful, like the work of Deborah Levy, Rachel Cusk, and Gina Frangello, is an unflinching look at what it means to live and write our own lives. It is a story about a mother’s fierce and constant love for her children, and a woman’s love and regard for herself. Above all, this memoir is an argument for possibility. With a poet’s attention to language and an innovative approach to the genre, Smith reveals how, in the aftermath of loss, we can discover our power and make something new. Something beautiful.
Poet Smith (Goldenrod) eschews the traditional memoir format in this mixed take on her recent divorce and its aftermath. "I've wondered if I can even call this book a memoir," she writes. "It's not something that happened in the past that I'm recalling for you.... I'm still living through this story as I write it." In winkingly titled chapters ("Email, Subject Line: Update;" "A Half Hour to Cry"), Smith details the collapse of her marriage with a bard's eye for detail: a postcard with another woman's name in her husband's messenger bag, "open, its unbuckled flap hanging over the back of the chair"; the discovery of half the family's savings withdrawn after an argument; and coparenting, through separation and a pandemic, before her husband moved 500 miles away. Smith often breaks the fourth wall to explain her writing process, which reads as a mix of self-effacing, self-knowing, and, occasionally, self-satisfied, especially when accompanied by aphoristic asides. ("A memoir is about ‘the art of memory,' and part of the art is in the curation," she writes in an imagined response to an imagined reader's query. "Next question.") This lyrical personal reflection is undoubtedly affecting, but as often it feels affected. Agent: Joy Tutela, David Black Literary.