Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage

 “Gorgeous, stunning, extraordinary—life changing.”

Will Schwalbe

Kirkus (Starred Review)

The noted novelist and memoirist reflects on her marriage and the elusive nature of time.

To write openly about an enduring intimate relationship requires courage and tact; it’s a balancing act that can trip up the most seasoned of writers, not to mention potentially damage the sacred bond at stake. In this compelling account of her 18-year marriage, Shapiro (Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, 2013 etc.) carefully exposes the vulnerabilities that have subtly begun to surface within the relationship and, individually, within her husband and herself, over the years, sensitively addressing how time, age, and the fluctuations of success continue to impact their lives. This is the third marriage for the author. Her husband, referenced here as simply M., is a screenwriter and formerly a foreign correspondent who was based in Africa. Together, they live in a rural setting in Connecticut with their teenage son. Shapiro moves back and forth in time from their first meeting at a cocktail party in Manhattan and their subsequent wedding and honeymoon in France through the various trials they’ve faced within their marriage. These include the near-death of their young son, deaths of parents, struggles with finances, and difficulties navigating the career demands and frequent disappointments of two writers sharing their working lives from a home base. Throughout, the narrative demonstrates Shapiro’s finely tuned, poetic skills as a writer. “The stumbles and falls; the lapses in judgment; the near misses; the could-haves. I’ve become convinced that our lives are shaped less by the mistakes we make than when we make them,” she writes. “There is less elasticity now. Less time to bounce back. And so I heed the urgent whisper and move with greater and greater deliberation. I hold my life with M. carefully in my hands like the faience pottery we brought back from our honeymoon long ago….We must be handled with care.”

A sharply observed and frequently moving memoir of a marriage

“As always, Dani Shapiro’s prose is elegant and crystal clear, the perfect vehicle for her fierce intelligence and curiosity about things that lurk just out of view. Hourglass is such a lovely book.”

Richard Russo

Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

In this touching and intimate memoir, Shapiro (Slow Motion, Devotion) admits that she has lost interest in telling stories. Instead she focuses on what is underneath: “the soft, pulsing thing that is true.” Over the years, the truth has become less hard-edged, more nuanced, than when she was young and had “all the self-knowledge of a Labrador retriever.” She does revisit earlier themes—her father’s death, her son’s devastating illness—but really this is about her 18-year marriage to “M.” There are many ups and plenty of downs, too. M had traded his career as a successful war correspondent for one as a struggling screenwriter, so that she wouldn’t have to worry about him being on the battlefield. But she does worry about him, fretting that one more disappointment will lead to hopelessness and he will follow his mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s. Shapiro beautifully weaves together her own moving language and a commonplace book’s worth of perfect quotes from others. Journals from her honeymoon—the last she kept—are often lists of things and places that in their very meaninglessness make an effective counterpoint, emphasizing what she has learned since the days of that beginning.

“Compassionate, insightful, and powerfully honest, in Hourglass Dani Shapiro illuminates the deepest mysteries, contradictions, and consolations of so very much—love, memory, the people we used to be and the people we’ve become. In other words: life. I was absorbed by Hourglass and consoled by it too. It’s a beautiful book by a writer of rare talent. It has the ring of truth.”

Cheryl Strayed

“Reading this book was like skating across a perfect piece of ice and then slowly noticing the cracks. Dark, cold water shows through. We can’t see the depths. Be careful, Shapiro warns, be careful, but still she skates on in the fading light with remarkable beauty and grace.”

Jenny Offill

“Rilke reminds us that “there are multitudes of people, but there are many more faces, because each person has several of them”. And how do we, moment after elusive moment, marry then continue to change and grow yet still accommodate these multitudes in one another? This is just one of the piercingly compelling questions Dani Shapiro explores in her masterfully rendered new memoir. Written with erudition, hard-earned wisdom, and sensual grace, Hourglass is a fearless and lovely mosaic of those very fragments that make a life worth living, the only one we get. I adore this book.”

Andre Dubus III