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Book Review: She I Dare Not Name: A Spinster’s Meditations June 1, 2021

Posted by Onely in book review, Guest Posts, Onelers of the World, Reviews.
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Welcome to the latest installment in our series, Onelers Of The World. Today I’m reviewing an important memoir by Australian author Donna Ward:  She I Dare Not Name: A spinster’s meditations on life. (Allen & Unwin 2021.) Previously I interviewed Donna for our series Onelers of the World. Part one of the interview is here. Now we have a treat for our U.S. American readers: She I Dare Not Name is being released in the U.S. TODAY (01 June 2021). You can get it at her publisher or at your favorite Indie bookseller or via the Evil Empire (no judgment–I personally have financed at least one of Jeff Bezo’s yachts)

Ward makes innumerable stinging and touching observations about a world where women like her and me are “less than”.*  I went a little crazy with the Kindle highlighter while reading this book. Ok, a lot crazy. My screen looks like Jackson Pollock was trying to understand the tribulations of unmarried childless women. 

Not that I’m totally on the same page (pun intended) as Ward. She started her journey through singledom reluctantly, expecting and hoping to become a partner and a mother, until it became clear that fate had other plans for her. I, on the other hand, never cared much one way or another if I were a partner or a parent. Her story is about coming to terms with her fate and learning not only to accept it, but to relish many aspects of her solitude. She pulls no punches in describing her roller-coaster journey from subtle pariah at the mommy-brunch (and recipient of the “frying-pan-for-one” present because it doesn’t look like she’ll “ever meet anyone”) to satisfied single whose solitude “endows an intimacy of one and a romance with the world”. Even for those of us like me who have always leaned towards single-at-heart, the process of recognizing and loving our solo selves can be a roller coaster, as we duck and dodge the prejudice society throws at us. Five stars say you’ll want to go along with Ward for her ride. 

Contrary to what most believe, solitude is a direct path into a relentless intimacy with oneself. I have learnt to be kind. (She I Dare Not Name, 17) 

Ward applies her poetic voice and powerful imagery to institutionalized singlism, meaning laws and commercial practices that blatantly and legally privilege married people. In other hands, this topic could come off dry: estate taxes, next of kin, social security. . . But don’t be foxed!**  In She I Dare Not Name, LINK the topic is tinder waiting to conflagrate. 

Here’s one part where Ward describes institutionalized singlism

Spinsterhood, bachelorhood. Such a first world problem. What easy victims we childless never-marrieds are. No need for ghettos, concentration camps, or gulags. We are disappeared in plain sight. Invisibles, working at our desks, walking the streets, sitting in cafes, taking in entertainments, paying taxes without family concessions and deductions or tax-minimisation entities. (145)

Here’s Ward talking about how childed people (mostly couples) are privileged over non-childed people (mostly singles):

Australian men and women are promoted, elected, included socially, given tax breaks and discounts, if they have a family. Even if that family lives in several houses between which children migrate. Even if that family is a single-parent household through choice, divorce or widowhood. As long as he or she has children, an Australian is a legitimate member of society. (140)

Here she is weaving the two threads: 

I long for a rich, intelligent, elucidating conversation about my life that doesn’t compete with the agonies of partnering and parenting. I yearn for the inalienable right of economic equality and respect that comes with citizenship. (208)

I could continue populating this review with quotes from She I Dare Not Name. But you should check it out yourself. Here are some of the things you can read about:

–Ward’s fascinating insights into the differences between the American view of marital status and the settler Australian view.

–Ward’s thoughts about the “conglomerate” of single people. Hint: we are all lumped together simply because we are not-married. We are united, in law and pop-culture, in our not-married-ness, no matter that our relationship histories and sexualities and socioeconomics and educations and dreams are varied as. . . a box of chocolates, I guess, with apologies to Forrest Gump. 

–Ward’s explanation of why Beyoncé’s song Single Ladies is not a feminist song, an interpretation I totally agree with

Ward is Australian and I am U.S. American. Although we arrived at enlightened singledom in different ways from different mindsets, our journeys had many similar moments. She describes the legitimate concern that independent single people have about hurting themselves or dying at home and not being found. She points out this is not because they don’t have a social support network (as Dr. Bella DePaulo has described, singles often have bigger support networks than marrieds) but because their network is not the kind where someone necessarily checks in every day. She says it like this:  

Obviously, I should gather my friends and negotiate a plan, but the idea overwhelms me. To ask those unaccustomed, and perhaps indisposed, to go the extra mile breaks an unspoken code… Truth is, I am an independent, responsible woman who will reach out when she needs. My friends don’t feel the need to check in, AND one day I might not be able to reach out in time. (185)

As I read (and highlighted), I remembered my own brush with single-living catastrophe, when I got stuck in my bathroom. For a few terrifying minutes, I imagined my starved corpse curled on the floor, as the cats paced outside the door, whining and hungry and unable to get to my still-meaty hips. 

This is not the only example of Ward’s and my parallel lives as intrepid singles. On page 182, she decides she needs to move a piano across the room. It gets stuck. The story gets better (or worse) when her clueless couple friends become involved. Oh, my heart. I stopped highlighting long enough to flash back to my own stuck piano, except it wasn’t a piano, it was a chair-slash-foldout-bed, and it wasn’t stuck in the middle of a room, but rather in the middle of a staircase. Same difference. 

But it’s not all stuck pianos and frying-pan-for-one gifts. As her narrative draws to a close, Ward says: 

But arriving at the winter of my sixty-sixth year, I can say this life gets better with age. Maybe that’s because living gets better with time. Maybe it’s because I made a home without a family in it. Maybe it’s the mastery of solitude, the enduring love of friends and relatives, or because all the decisions I thought I’d make with a partner I managed to make on my own. Maybe it’s the confidence that comes of standing in the hot wind of my sentences, letting their precision score my skin, and endow me with the capacity to live this life I have been given, as best I can. (209)

I hope this review encourages you to buy She I Dare Not Name via any of the links in the first paragraph above. If you’re on a tight budget, don’t forget you can always ask your library to purchase it! Librarians love recommendations from readers to help them shape their collections, and writers love for their work to be in as many libraries as possible. Prefer shorter works? Stay tuned for parts two and three of my interview with author Donna Ward, coming soon. 

–Christina

*Because we’re writing in British English in honor of our Australian author, I get to put the periods outside the quote marks, which makes me feel all warm and fuzzy

**I learned this phrase from She I Dare Not Name and now Imma use it all the time

Photo credit: Manda Ford

 

Comments»

1. Barbara Payne - June 1, 2021

Great review. Love the poetic language!

2. Craig I Wynne - June 7, 2021

I love your interaction with the text! I look forward to attending her launch tonight!

3. Caroline Campbell - June 8, 2021

Can’t wait to put this book on my reading list! Great review!


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