Friday, January 7, 2011

Poser by Claire Dederer

Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer is a memoir about a young mother told through a variety of yoga asanas.  Each chapter is titled after a yoga pose–some repeated–that tie in, more or less, with the theme of the chapter itself.

Have you ever read a book that you really, really wanted to like and you ended up only liking it, sorta?  That’s how I feel about this book.  The idea of it, I loved but the interesting premise of giving each chapter a yoga pose often seemed more pretense, done for effect and not always effective.  The young mother anxious over every detail of her young daughter’s life isn’t fully contextualized until later in the book and by then all this navel gazing made this reader want to point out the obvious: children have survived worse parenting than this self-conscious young woman could ever fear to be.

Dederer’s humor is off-key for me.  I could see the humor on the page but it never even drew a smile to my face, let alone had me chuckling along.  If anything, I occasionally found myself laughing at her rather than with her, a feeling that I did not like at all.  And what vague moments of enlightenment she achieved over the years, as a wife, parent, yogini–all of these are given short shrift as if she felt they were too delicate to hold up to the harsh light of letting other readers see what she believes and has experienced.

If western yoga is vilified as being watered down, more about exercise than enlightenment, morally irrelevant and mostly a social fad that has come and gone before and will go away soon, then this memoir is a testimony to the truth of these accusations.  Dederer’s yoga experience is American, with all the best and worst that this implies.

Perhaps one could argue that Dederer knows her American audience and has written a great memoir as a result.  And there is enough here to like to not condemn it completely.  Her insights  into her parent’s relationship and her own are of interest and, if they too fall far from the promise of being insightful, at least they allow a reader to realize that the author is not completely narcissistic.  Those who loved Gilbert’s first memoir or are obsessing over everything in their child’s life may feel an empathy for Dederer I do not.  Perhaps someone with a better sense of humor would laughed along with her as well.  As for me, I really, really wanted to like this book but . . .

(PS: It is interesting to note that it is not until near the very end of the book I find out that the author has chronic vertigo, something that would have made me inclined to feel infinitely more empathetic.  Really?  Not until page 322 does this chronic condition that has defined my personal life for the past four years come up in Dederer’s book?  This is a metaphor, I suppose, for how far removed her experience is from my own because even this, chronic vertigo, is practically irrelevant for her.)

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