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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
When the Shoe Fits: Essays of Love, Life and Second Chances is a collection of inspirational essays written by Mary T. Wagner. Wagner’s life as wife, mother, journalist and life-long companion to two horses took a slight detour when she decided to go back to school and study law at the age of forty. Then she took a closer look at her life and filed for divorce. But it all started with a jump her horseback riding instructor had wanted her to try once again. She ignored the still small voice inside her and gamely tried once more, ending up on her back and in a world of pain. Wagner had actually broken her back and would spend three months in a body cast. It gave her time to think about life, her priorities and the dreams she was not quite ready to put on a shelf and forget about. The essays in this collection chronicle her new life, complete with adult children who were not at all surprised when their parents decided to split up.
Many essays are bittersweet and pull at the heartstrings, particularly those concerning Wagner’s parents. I loved her essay, Return to the Fatherland, which describes a trip Wagner took with her teenage sons and her ailing father, a reunion with his family after several decades away. Wagner marvels at how frail he had become and how he’d go off somewhere in his head from time to time and then return. Her essays about her horses also speak of the passage of time and loss in a most poignant way.
The essays I liked best were those in which she shared her outdoor adventures, starting with Thelma and Louise on Spring Break. It was grand fun to follow the two friends as they escaped the bitter cold and snow and followed the sun’s southern trajectory until they reached the Gulf Coast and found their paradise. It was a beach with “white sugar sand,” that was warm and perfect as she lazed on the shore and dug her fingertips into the sun-baked warmth. Likewise, her descriptions of the vacation cabin and her birding adventures are marvelous. Wagner is a gifted nature writer; those skills showing even as she describes the transformation of her yard into a place of life and flowers.
Then there are the funny ones: the descriptions of a year of dating and her conversion to motorcycling as an expression of trust and love, and the year she discovered that her adult children had indeed inherited her sense of humor when she found the Christmas Axe cookies complete with bloody edges and the Angel cookies with bloodstained hands when cleaning up after a glorious traditional Christmas meal and gift exchange. Each essay is brilliant and beautifully written, with a style that is conversational and relaxed, making you feel the author is speaking directly to you. When the Shoe Fits: Essays of Love, Life and Second Chances is most highly recommended.