DEVOTION by Dani Shapiro
“We were complicated by our history, by the religion of our ancestors. There was beauty and wisdom and even solace in that. I no longer felt that I had to embrace it allâ€”nor did I feel that I had to run away. I could take the bits and pieces that made sense to me, and incorporate them into the larger patchwork of our lives.’”
Review by Eleanor Bukoswky (JAN 26, 2010)
In Devotion, Dani Shapiro describes her quest to come to terms with the traditional Judaism of her father (which she abandoned), her late mother’s legacy of bitterness and anger, her fear that her only son might be damaged by his early battle with infantile spasms (a seizure disorder), and her inability to relax and enjoy the present, unfettered by neurotic worrying. She was deeply traumatized at the age of twenty-three when her father, who was only sixty-four, collapsed and died while driving his car.
Since she and her husband, Michael, are successful writers, Shapiro does not spend her days hurrying to a nine-to-five job and then rushing home to make dinner for her family. She is a novelist and homemaker who has the luxury of time, during which she can attend yoga classes, practice meditation, and explore her thoughts and emotions in depth. There is a New Age feel to Shapiro’s activities. She signs up for something called “Master Level Energy Work;” a woman named Sandra acts as a conduit between Dani and her dead father. Shapiro also dabbles in Reform Judaism (at one point, she dons her father’s prayer shawl and phylacteries), and consults advisors who impart wisdom that she tries to incorporate into her daily life.
Dani and her family live in rural Connecticut, and she admits that her son, Jacob, is barely aware of his Jewish identity. The author, who is in her forties, wrote this book to describe her existential crisis: “Something was very wrong, but I didn’t know what it was. All I knew was that I felt terribly anxious and unsteady. Doomed.” Although she claims that she was not clinically depressed, she says, “It seemed that there had to be more than this hodgepodge of the everyday.” Shapiro suffered from free-floating anxiety and dread, in spite of the fact that she had a loving husband, a healthy son, and a fulfilling career as a novelist and teacher.
Although Shapiro seems to be a thoughtful and goodhearted individual, Devotion comes across as a disjointed, repetitious, and self-indulgent work, in which Shapiro recounts her slow journey towards a more meaningful existence. She admits that she cherry-picked (“the smorgasbord approach”), choosing a little bit of this and a little bit of that to form a workable belief system. While in Venice, she purchased a mezuzah, prayed (to whom?) when the mood struck her, spent three days at a yoga and meditation center called Kripalu, another three days at the Garrison Institute (a former monastery), where she was guided by Sylvia Boorstein, a Buddhist.
Shapiro has some distinguished relatives. Her father’s younger sister, Shirley, was married for sixty-six years to Moses Feuerstein, who served as president of the Orthodox Union. His brother, Aaron Feuerstein, is the legendary owner of Malden Mills in Massachusetts. When his factory burned down in 1995, Mr. Feuerstein used his insurance money to rebuild the business, and in the interim and paid his employees’ salaries, with full benefits, for six months. It seems that Ms. Shapiro could have drawn inspiration from these two livesâ€”those of Moses and Aaron Feuerstein. Doing acts of loving kindness for others and perpetuating a long-standing tradition of ethics and good works can imbue anyone’s years on earth with significance. Too much focus on oneself can create a void that is difficult, if not impossible, to fill. Ms. Boorstein said, “Everyone is struggling…..You have to go forward. And we all die in the end. So how to deal with it?” The answer is, of course, different for everyone. Some enter psychotherapy, others become deeply religious, and there are those who concentrate on their profession and/or families. Devotion implies that looking inward, with the help of mentors, may be one way to reach inner peace.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 2 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Harper (January 26, 2010)|
|AMAZON PAGE:||Devotion: A Memoir|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Dani Shapiro|
|EXTRAS:||BookPage interview with Dani Shapiro|
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