Book review: ‘Mothers of Sparta: a Memoir in Pieces’

by Tracee M. Herbaugh for The Associated Press
This cover image released by Flatiron Books shows "Mothers of Sparta: A Memoir in Pieces," by Dawn Davies. (Flatiron Books via AP)
AP | Flatiron Books


“Mothers of Sparta: a Memoir in Pieces”

Dawn Davies

Flatiron Books, 2018

What’s in a life?

Forget celebrities and superstars, or Nobel laureates and the like, the people who live in the realms of the extraordinary and exciting. On the contrary: What are the significant moments that make up the story of a regular person?

“Mothers of Sparta: a Memoir in Pieces” by Dawn Davies answers this question, and eloquently so. Each chapter reads like a stand-alone essay. You can read them one at a time, but, as a whole, they make sense.

“Mothers of Sparta” opens with Davies detailing her struggle with anxiety.

Davies dropped out of college at 19 and moved from her home state of Florida to Boston, where she worked various jobs and attempted to launch a business selling cheesecakes on sticks.

During this foray, her boyfriend died in a tragic accident while visiting his home country of Brazil. She is then left alone to grieve in Boston.

Yet, not soon after the accident, Davies has her second run-in with death as she watches a Northeastern University student killed by an impaired driver on a busy thoroughfare while on a date in neighboring Cambridge. Davies held the dying girl’s hand and sang “Jesus Loves Me.”

Still, “Mothers of Sparta” isn’t just a grim recounting of all the suffering that Davies has experienced. There are laugh-out-loud funny moments — such as the time she rescued a dog with her second husband and young children. Or the story about trying to save money on her 19-year-old daughter’s wedding by ordering a designer dress from China. The dress was a dud, but the daughter called off the marriage anyway, choosing to keep pursuing her education at a top-tier school.

Some of the most compelling writing is on the subject of parenting. Davies’ ruminations about being a mom are all over the place — happy and sad, funny and serious — but they’re sure to resonate with readers who have kids.

“Children can hold hope for a long time without it burning their hand, far longer than adults can, which is what allows them to complete the act of growing up in a world full of people who lie, where people let you down all the time,” Davies writes.

“Mothers of Sparta” offers exquisite writing and storytelling craft. Davies, it seems, can bring to life just about anything with her writing.

Aspen Times Weekly

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