Devotion a memoir by Dani Shapiro is a book I wanted to love. Shapiro has written a number of novels and is also the author of Slow Motion the story about her early twenties where she was a mess and then getting her life back on track after her father dies when she is twenty-three. This book also spends a lot of time focusing on the relationship or the lack of relationship she had with her father while he was alive.
Shapiro is a beautiful woman ( as demonstrated on the back page photo) who is married to a screen writer and lives on ten acres in Litchfied County Connecticut one of the richest counties in the United States. She has a wonderful career and a happy marriage and a son who suffered from a life threatening illness when he was an infant but by whatever grace is out there her son recovered and throughout the book which appears to take place over three years he is a happy, healthy, smart and delightful little boy. Ms. Shapiro does not share these traits with her son. She like so many other middle aged women feels the stress of realizing that her life is half over. That her father died to early and he was never able to see her son or her own success. Her mother was never able to love her and remained angry at the world and her fathers family up to and after her death even refusing to be buried in her husband’s family plot.
It is apparent throughout the book that Ms. Shapiro has had a fairly gifted life in terms of not ever really having to struggle for money or acceptance. She was loved and she is successful. Her existential crisis comes in her forties after living through 9/11 and the loss of a number of pregnancy. The author decides to go no a search for the truth. Her search consists of a few yoga retreats, a couple of visits to different temples to find where she and her family fit in being one of the few Jews in her part of Connecticut and reaching out to an aunt whose entire family is orthodox.
She finds some answers but they appear to be answers that are prepackaged and had to be found by her deadline. Whole sections of the book consist of definition of words that she deems important in her search.
As I stated before I really wanted to love this book but I did not it is self indulgent and mediocre. Not once during her search for meaning did she do anything that really had to involve stretching the boundaries of her life and never once did she mention that part of the answer of the search might involve finding something and becoming involved in something that was bigger then herself, her husband and her son.
Her search consisted of yoga retreats, reading, doing yoga in the bedroom of what one can only assume is a mini-mansion on her ten acres of farmland in Connecticut.
I do not know if Ms. Shapiro is really looking for the meaning of life and/or for her place in the cosmos but if she is the “answers” she finds in this book will not long sustain her because they involve nothing outside of herself. If Ms. Shapiro really wants to find meaning in life and rituals I suggest she get out of her fifth avenue, bergdoff Goodman’s privileged life and bring her yoga skills to children and women living in poverty or her writing skills not to the fancy liberal arts college but to a community college anywhere and with anyone that has to look the beast in the eye on a daily basis and still manages to get up and live.