Shetterly and her husband were young and newly married when they packed up all of their belongings and their pets and headed to the west coast to follow their dreams and escape life already teetering on the edge of financial struggle in Maine. But one year out in California and the reality of the dream is inescapable and unfortunately untenable. And so the couple, beyond broke, having unexpectedly welcomed a baby into their family and lost a beloved pet, starts off on the long road home to the only safety net they know, to move in with Caitlin's mother. Having already chronicled their journey and the revelations that it inspires for NPR's Weekend Edition, Shetterly expands on that experience here in her book.
In some ways it feels unkind to say that I didn't much like Shetterly since she is not a fictional character in a book but instead a real flesh and blood person. But she has chosen a particular way to represent herself here in this memoir and I found it hard to like this representation. The story is repetitive and Shetterly seems unduly whiny, especially for someone who has quite a few more resources than the average joe who really is losing his or her shirt in this recession. Her losses, and they are many and potentially crushing, do grant her some perspective on our culture of excess and the need for connection among family and community but rather than count the blessings that she can still see, she bemoans everything that the country has done and is doing wrong and that led to her small family's failure. I found myself irritated more than moved by Shetterly's narrative. Perhaps the lack of personal accountability on the pages fueled my reaction more than the story itself. According to reviews elsewhere, most people disagree with me and find this moving and heartfelt. I had more of a visceral reaction to the scene in 1997's movie My Fellow Americans with the former presidents and the homeless family who had invited them into their station wagon. Obviously this was just not the book for me.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.