A Memoir of Stories
Lauck tells of her struggle to raise her children and come to terms with the circumstances of her own harrowing upbringing in short, captivating stories alternating between past and present. This is Lauck's third book, and it focuses less on her past than did Blackbird and its follow-up, Still Waters. The author recaps her life in snippets related to her present status as a wife and mother of two children. Her childhood was hard, to say the least: her mother died when she was seven, her father when she was nine, and her brother committed suicide in her first year of college; yet she's levelheaded and conscientious about the way her past will play out in relation to raising children. At one point she describes her labor"A deep pain digs at my back and catches my breath. I want to keep looking back, but I can't anymore"essentially summing up her theory that it's important not to endow children with parental history. Lauck is not self-indulgent and does not invoke pity; she does, however, command respect and provide inspiration as she honestly continues to teach herself how to be a mother, all the while fighting to listen to intuition. Through this exploration of motherhood, she ends up teaching readers something about raising children, keeping in mind that no matter how hard a parent tries to prevent it, a child is inevitably affected by his or her parents' past. (Publishers Weekly)
Show Me the Way: the third book on Jennifer's personal journey
Original publication date in hardcover: April, 2004
Currently available in paperback from Amazon
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Mother's memoir stresses that the job is not about perfection
By John Marshall, Seattle Post-Intelligencer book critic
Writing a memoir is a rite of passage for many writers these days. Writing a second memoir is entering rarer territory, where fewer writers care to tread. Writing three memoirs is just plain out there, a bold, risky venture seldom attempted.
Jennifer Lauck of Portland is fearless in that chutzpah fashion. Her first book, Blackbird, became a surprise national and international best seller in 2000 that sold half a million copies in hardback after her appearance on Oprah. She followed that with Still Waters in 2001. Now Lauck returns with Show Me the Way (Atria Books, 275 pages, $24), an engaging, heartfelt and often irreverent look at the satisfactions and stresses of rookie parenthood.
Lauck gets it all down with an unflinching eye, from the 5-year-old son who calls her "a big stupid poop head" to the by-the-numbers doctors on remote control, from the sleep-deprived nights to the nagging what-if fears about a child's safety, from the low comedy of initial breast-feeding attempts to the high-wire act of remaining loving spouses amid the seismically altered world at home.
Written in a fast-paced, breezy style--Lauck's roots are in local television news (Spokane, Portland)--Show Me the Way captivates with its honesty. The 40-year-old writer is someone who is more than willing to admit that a gift orchid from a woman in her book group prompts anger more than gratitude.
Lauck muses she should have told the orchid presenter: "Look, lady, don't give me a goddamned orchid right now. You've got it all figured out, obviously, but I don't. I have a new baby (girl), a son, a house that's a mess, not to mention that I'm supposed to volunteer my obligatory 25 hours at my kid's kindergarten class, drop 30 pounds, pay the bills, and get some groceries in the refrigerator before my kids starve.
"I can't keep this slice of floral perfection alive. I can barely keep my kids and myself alive. What in the world are you trying to do to me, break my back under the weight of yet another demand to keep life going? How much more life can I be responsible for anyway?"
Show Me the Way has far more humor than Lauck's previous two memoirs, which dealt with her disturbingly harrowing childhood and troubled adolescence, her mother's long illness, the early death of her parents, her adoption, sexual abuse and the suicide of her brother.
But the great value of Lauck's take on parenting is how she courageously proceeds along her own path through motherhood, ever aware of the mistakes and tragedies that marked her formative years, while always dedicated to learning from the past in order to make a better future for her own children, as best she can. She offers a too-rare dose of mom realism to help fuel the retreat from the absurd standards of "super mom" of the 1990s.
Yet, true to her journalistic past, Lauck remains the relentless questioner of standard operating procedures and conflicting "authoritative" advice, even the new parent's favorite lifeline known as "the pink medicine" (amoxicillin), the most common cure for the infant scourge of ear infections. Her own actions, too, come under the same intent scrutiny, even when she refuses to admit that she is suffering from post-partum depression after the birth of her first child.
"We are still at the place where depression is one step from insanity," Lauck writes. "We're still at the place where women are afraid to talk, and to me, that seems like the crazy part."
Show Me the Way is not without its flaws. Every chapter seems to begin with a description of the seasonal landscape or the well-preserved Portland neighborhood (Irvington) where Lauck lives. Several chapters in the latter section of the book feel far more like magazine pieces than portions of a larger memoir. And Lauck, at times, could push herself into deeper reflections and meditations since this is likely her last memoir for quite some time and many loyal readers have earned that.
Lauck stressed this week in a telephone interview that her next book will be fiction because she is increasingly uncomfortable writing about people who are still alive, including her auctioneer husband, her 7-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter. But the wisecracking author has no regrets about writing a third memoir since those precious days of pregnancy, infancy and toddlerhood pass way too quickly into memory. Nor is she hesitant about stating what she has learned.
"Parenting is not about being perfect," Lauck says. "It's about loving them well."