Ciara's Reviews > Signs of Life: A Memoir

Signs of Life by Natalie Taylor
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's review
May 29, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: autobio-memoir, read-in-2011
Read in May, 2011

so, this is a year & a half in the life of a woman whose husband unexpectedly died in a freak skateboarding accident while she was four months pregnant with their first child. i mean, how can i mark something like that down on stars? that would be one of my all-time worst nightmares.

the book opens with natalie getting the news about her husband's death while she is vacationing in florida with her family. they all rush back to michigan, where they agree to suspend life support & donate josh's organs. & then natalie has to get through the remainder of her pregnancy & adjust to life as a 24-year-old widow. she is very fortunate in that both family & josh's family & her extended network of friends all rally around her & try to provide her with whatever support she needs. she lives with her parents for several weeks after josh's death because she can't bear the thought of going back to the house they shared. she finally moves back in after her mother-in-law redecorates for her.

on the recommendation of her OB/gyn, natalie starts seeing a therapist, which seems to do her a world of good as she attempts to move through the grief & prepare for single motherhood. once her son is born, she joins a single moms' support group. the descriptions of the support group are one of the places where the book gets kind of dicey. the other women in the support group are pretty young (not that 24 years old is like methuselah in the mothering community or anything--i think that is HELLA young to be having babies), & most of them are single moms because they have split up with their baby daddies, generally after relationships that weren't that great to begin with. this book was drawn from a diary that natalie kept in the moment, & she writes pretty honestly about feeling like she didn't belong with these single moms. that she wasn't like them because she would be parenting with her husband if he hadn't died, & she's not a teen mom, & she has more class privilege than they do. a person who is remotely interested in social justice or people not being assholes could easily start to lose sympathy for natalie here, because she does seem really selfish & full of herself.

but as the book goes on, you start to realize that she makes a lot of snap decisions about who does & does not belong in her life, who is & is not similar to her, but she is open to revising those decisions. i have only experienced one significant death in my life--my dad died right after i turned 23. i can vouch for the fact that death makes a person, sometimes, a little bit selfish. it's difficult to consider other people's feelings when your own feelings seem to be taking up all the space in your body & then some. & i think especially when you are dealing with a totally shocking, unexpected death (my dad dropped dead of a heart attack one day while brushing his hair), it's also pretty normal to try to start drawing lines in the sand & trying to define everything & everyone around you, just to try to make some sense of the world & your place in it, to try to build something that you can hold on to. so i was more than willing to cut natalie a little slack.

she is also a high school english teacher & structures each chapter around a book that she especially likes or has taught to her students, drawing connections between its plots, themes, or characters, & whatever is happening in her own journey through grief & motherhood. some other reviewers have complained that these passages are condescending--"who doesn't know the plot of catcher in the rye?" but i felt like natalie really was expressing her own joy & connection to these books, even if they are classics that most americans plowed through in high school. maybe it's a little bit of a gimmick. but i could relate to it & i liked it, & some of her stories from her high school classrooms were really interesting. she actually made me wish that i could be a more patient person, which is not something i think i have ever thought about myself.
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message 1: by Hilary (new)

Hilary Donovan Clara, I love your review. Cutting people some slack who are forced into brutal circumstances is the way to go. I'm loving this book and I love it that she expresses her negative feelings and emotions. If I want to read about saints, there are books out there, but usually I want to read about human beings more like myself. And I can't imagine how horrible it would have been to have lost my husband when I was pregnant. When I lost him when I was 62, I was so grateful that my daughter was grown and that at least we got to experience life as a family.

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