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Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite
If all those who want to write a memoir wrote their stories the way Geraldine Birch wrote Vision of a Happy Life, both publishers and readers would be more receptive to this less popular form of book. The reason is that Birch, like a skilled fiction author, knows how to write “beautiful and raw stories about hidden events that will make you keep turning the pages.” How does she do this? By not falling victim to the typical memoirist approach of relying on the narrator to tell the entire story from his/her own perspective. Birch allows the characters surrounding and impacting the narrator’s life to reveal themselves through their own words and actions. As a result, the story and its characters come alive, stir our emotions at their depths, and involve readers at all levels. This is great memoir writing.
Vision of a Happy Life is the vision that Geraldine Birch had, as a divorced and struggling mother, when she fell in love with, and married a wealthy grocery market owner, John Stewart. That vision included being a stay-at-home mom to her sons, having plenty of money to enjoy the finer things in life, and mingling with the rich and even the famous at high-end events and locations. What she didn’t know and ultimately found out is what a messed-up family she had married into, a family that John loved but avoided knowing on anything but a surface level. His method of coping with family issues was to avoid them by throwing lavish parties, lending and borrowing money, and drinking. And most important to John and the family, as founders in their small community, was keeping up appearances at any cost. Bit by bit, the disintegration of Birch’s Vision of a Happy Life took a huge toll on her and her marriage.
Don’t be surprised, if as you read Vision of a Happy Life, you alternate between shaking your head with incredulity, to laughing to crying, as no doubt Geraldine Birch often did. I marvelled that she lasted as long as she did in the Stewart family and I cheered for her when she finally extricated herself. This story is so easy to read and enjoy. As it says on her author’s website, Birch is an “ace writer, who knows the art of weaving words.” That’s why this memoir succeeds where so many other memoirs fail. Highly recommended for both aspiring memoirists and those who know a well-written memoir can be as riveting as any work of fiction.