REVIEW: Splinters by Leslie Jamison

Reviewed by Michelle Polizzi

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Through a certain lens, there are two types of people: those who know what it’s like to raise a child, and those who don’t. Leslie Jamison’s Splinters: Another Kind of Love Story (Little Brown and Company; February 2024) is a refreshingly ambitious memoir that seeks to bridge this divide by showing us why child-rearing is as much about diapers and sleepless nights and as it is about heartbreak and hope. She reminds us that even if we aren’t or never will be a parent or caregiver ourselves, we undoubtedly love someone who is.

Splinters follows the twisted, unexpected journey of becoming a new parent while also ending a marriage with that child’s father. The story begins with Jamison’s instantaneous love for her baby and the subsequent gratitude she feels for her own mother, who supports her with childcare as Jamison goes back to work. We’re also taken though Jamison’s burgeoning spousal animosity and her decision to divorce her husband; a choice that, while necessary, complicates her desires to further her career and create a solid foundation for her daughter. As she grapples with these challenges and reimagines what home and love can look like for the two of them, she embarks on a journey to claim all of her many identities as a mother, artist, friend, teacher, daughter, and lover.

Jamison’s desires are contextualized via a kaleidoscope of powerful scenes that rewind to her youth, memories of her marriage, and struggles with alcoholism in Iowa (a time thoroughly detailed in her 2018 book, The Recovering). These flashbacks provide an origin story for the attachments and longings that continue to shape Jamison in the narrative arc. Taken alone, these anecdotes might feel incomplete. But as part of the memoir, they serve as a strategic vehicle for demonstrating Jamison’s idea of the splintered self—that our greatest loves in life are often in opposition with one another.

For instance, when discussing how friendships helped her through the early days of her marriage separation, Jamison writes, “But the weave of everyday life had always been girls and women: bean stews and freeway commutes with my mother; a tight crew of girlfriends in high school, when I felt utterly invisible to the brash, cackling boys leaning against their SUVs in the parking lot; a college best friend with whom I stayed up until dawn drinking Diet Coke and arguing about God.”

Then, she writes, “…My close friends were not all versions of my mother. Each was no one but herself. But with all of them, I found a version of the safety my mother first introduced me to: You don’t have to keep earning me. I’m here.”

Despite finding secure attachment with her mother and friends, Jamison struggles in romantic relationships. Near the end of the book, after a boyfriend details why their conversations were unsatisfying to him, Jamison writes, “It felt like I was studying for a test, and this was the only way I could correct my own mistakes. It was like a drug I couldn’t give up, or a false prophet I’d followed—the fantasy of being interesting enough to deserve love.”

This is an example of how Jamison effectively articulates common human flaws. In this case, we know that changing for a person, or asking them to change for us, will never make us happy. So why do we try anyway? One part of her knows she is loved deeply by her mother, her friends, and her community. In romantic love, however, there is the part of her that’s still bumping up against the same roadblock she felt as a child vying for her father’s love and attention.

These forthcoming moments of reflection invite the reader into experiences that, while deeply personal to Jamison, are widely relatable. In other words, Jamison writes about her deepest longings in a way that makes us acutely feel our own. This is memoir at its best: not a product of navel gazing or self-promotion, but a mirror that reflects one’s self back out into the world, where readers can say, I feel this too.

An overarching message in Splinters is that life is not only about the tragedies that shape us, but also the fragments left behind. What remnants of love live on after a divorce? How should we mourn a life that didn’t turn out as planned? Where do we find happiness after a relationship fails? Her answer to these queries, in part, is to consider the liminal spaces of existence in equal measure—not just the book signings and the spa dates and the creekside weddings, but also the baby swaddled and crying in the lonely dark morning; the squeaky hinges and pandemic-induced fevers. Jamison reassures her readers that the monotonous, yearning parts of ourselves are equally important because they are what makes us whole.

Anyone facing a pivotal life change, or who is struggling to parse through the aftermath of one, can benefit from reading this memoir. Because by the end, they will believe in Jamison’s argument that the splintered self is a more dynamic and capable self; that a broken heart simply means one has all the right hardware to love, and be loved, again.

Meet the Contributor

Michelle-PolizziMichelle Polizzi is a journalist and essayist with work in HuffPost, Insider, HerStry, Chicago Review of Books, Parade, and more. She is the author of Model Home, a memoir about losing her home and finding her place in the world, which is represented by Victoria Skurnick at Levine Greenberg Rostan literary agency. Originally from Upstate New York, she has traveled to over 20 countries and has worked every job from cheese seller to chambermaid. She holds an MA in creative writing from Wilkes University and now lives in Denver.

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