The Possibility of Everything by Hope EdelmanPosted by Lee on Mar 8, 2012 in Medical, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Travel | 0 comments
“There is something utterly calming about waiting patiently in a warm jungle
clearing with my husband and child while a woman drenches us in prayer.”
~ Hope Edelman, The Possibility of Everything (277)
Hope Edelman’s memoir stirs, raising more questions than it can answer, while at the same time, validating a lack of necessity for some conclusions. Edelman’s prose is distinctively persona driven: that of a woman who is mother, wife, writer, and skeptic. The voice is confident in insecurity and concern. It’s a voice to which many can easily relate. The memoir is not one I would have picked up on my own. In honesty, had I started it on my own, I probably would not have continued after the first chapter or two. Between contract and interest in the subject as it relates to some recent experiences that inspire my writing, I stuck with the work, and I’m damn glad I did. While the story starts slow, the writing and the construction deliver. The work is not just a memoir – it’s a history book, a travelogue, an adventure story, and an unassuming, convincing, world-opening account of mystery. As a writer, I took notes regarding structure, dialogue, research, tense, persona, character development, and spirituality. The title of the book, before reading, sounds almost insistent on itself. But after enjoying the full work, it’s clear it really is about the mystery behind anything and everything being possible. I came to the book curious and studious. Edelman, a gifted writer, is also gifted teacher – possibly more naturally so. She teaches writing through her writing – making an example of her work for structure, research, and earnestness.
I questioned the structure when I first started reading. An introduction shows high drama in the jungle, introduces the main characters, and promises the reader that he or she will soon be steeped in something crazy. However, the subsequent chapters lull, establishing the characters in a normal (mostly), busy family. The introduction of Edelman’s daughter’s imaginary friend “Dodo” happens in the chapters, and while unnerving, is not dramatized to the degree promised in the introduction to the story. It soon becomes clear that the momentum is not intended to build traditionally, nor predictably. In Edelman’s story, the structure is that of life – ragged, unexpected, challenged and changed repeatedly. By the end of the book, the arc is established, but it’s not the predictable arc a reader expects. And in that, the writer in me takes the lesson that the reader in me enjoyed guessing and being surprised throughout. The story is not just one of a strange childhood behavioral problem, or one of a marriage suffering, or one of a young mother coping and growing – it’s a story of everything out there, unreasonable, unorderable, and impossible.
Edelman establishes the importance of research time and again, and she (admitting early-on her strength and passion as a researcher) demonstrates her best writing in the retelling of things uncovered by her research. Healthy doses of cultural history fill the memoir, giving the reader a full education in the region, religion, and mystery of the Maya people. It is with ultimate confidence Edelman writes these sections. While researcher may not be a persona from which she crafted the work, it is, in my opinion, her strongest voice. The language, the syntax, the vocabulary, and the pace of her writing when writing researched material feel more natural, more expert, more second-nature than the scenes and exposition in which she writes as a mother/wife/skeptic. It might be that there’s implied truth to the history she’s retelling that makes it easier to just write it, or it might be that the natural teacher in her presses her fingers without as much restraint. Either way, it was the ease with which I read the researched/cultural history sections that caught me off guard and drew my attention to the amount of work Edelman must have done researching. It’s so authorial that it is impossible to tell it originated in other texts. She just tells it. That and I noted well-written supportive material gives ultimate credibility to the rest of the author’s voices.
Of course, because it’s memoir, the reader comes to the page expecting earnest introspection. The writer reading demands it. While I felt there were times the introspection was forceful, I was never disappointed by the results of Edelman’s reveals. In fact, as a parent of a toddler, I found it to be some of the best personal exposure from another parent writer I’ve read.
The kind of hypercompetence this [ditching of the belief that everything works out for the best or happens for a reason] fosters is what has saved me from despair, but it’s also destroyed my capacity to have faith in anything other than myself (161).
Whatever I need – what we need – is right here on this swing. Sitting. Playing. Now. And I realize, in this moment, that this is how a family grows. Not by the addition of more children or through the race to endlessly accumulate more or from my constant attempts to guard against loss, but in ordinary moments like this one. Deceptively simple moments that manage to be worth everything while appearing to be worth nothing at all (300).
It is in passages like these that the reader gets honest revelation and reflection from Edelman. Some passages are hopeful, some are self-deprecating, some are just honest, but all work to the goal of the story as a whole – to give readers and writers something with which they can connect and from which they can learn. At one point, she reminisces about riding her mountain bike to burn off stress that was keeping her from writing. That single passage would have been enough for me as a writer. I read it and thought, “Shoot! That’s it! It IS the stress that’s keeping me from writing. I DO need to do something physical like that to alleviate it.”
Through the use of reality-driven structure, meticulous and translated research, and driven self-exposure, Edelman creates a memoir that does more than for what is bargained. And, through her accessible, personal language and skeptical approach, she not only convinces the reader that her world has opened to the impossible, she gives the critical writer-reader permission to accept that his or hers has as well.