Shuly Cawood is the life-long friend of my friend, Emily, which is how I came to read this book.
Part of me approached the reading with trepidation. If you’ve never read a book by a friend or the friend of a friend, it can be a bit dicey. What if the book puts you to sleep or is an absolute trainwreck? What do you say to your friend when they asked how you liked it, particularly if you want to have an authentic relationship with that friend? I repeat: DI-CEY.
Any fears I had were quickly put to rest on page one. Cawood’s memoir is about her relationship with, well, relationships. Her relationships with past boyfriends, her ex-husband, her new husband, her dogs, and — ultimately and, really, always — herself. She explores not just who she loves, but how she loves. She comes to understand that her system of love was broken.
“When I was twenty-nine, I believed that surrendering what I wanted for the sake of someone else was the cost of love and that I should bear it” (58). She goes on to write,
The truth is that for a long time I believed in something I did not know that I believed in, that was only evident upon reflection: that love was a currency. If I gave love, I would get it back. I expected an equal exchange. When I did not feel enough love, I gave more. (Whatever “enough” is. Back then it was never enough.)
It was like putting coins in a broken soda machine, banging a fist on it because it won’t drop out a cold can of soda, and then inserting more and more coins. Not that I am calling Rob a broken soda machine. My system of love was what was broken” (147-148).
Cawood’s calm and compassionate exploration into how she’s moved through her love life and what she’s learned as an adult makes The Going and Goodbye one the most honest, patient, and non-dramatic memoirs I’ve read. She takes the reader on a journey into her heart and although she takes her time, the narrative never lags.
I enjoyed the beautiful writing and how reflective it is without seeming to navel gaze. It’s a prime example of how talented writers came make the specifics of their life seem universal. Each word seems to matter without feeling heavy. It was no surprise to learn, after reading this memoir, that Cawood first came to writing as a poet.
There is no drama or violence . . . wait, I take that back. There is a brief scene where — trigger warning — a dog gets run over. It’s terrible, but over quickly. What makes it so awful (beyond the dog being run over) is the un-dramatic way in which Cawood writes the scene.
Her writing is like that, which makes you (or at least it did me) slow down and pay attention as a reader. But other than that scene this is not a memoir of abuse or horrific happenings, but of one woman sharing her process of reflecting on the actions and needs of her heart, and the slow but active and conscious repairs she’s made to her system of love.
“Most things broken can be fixed. I did not know then that in the end they might be better with repair” (148).
Title: The Going and Goodbye
Author: Shule Xóchitl Cawood
Publisher: Platypus Press, 2017 (192 pages)
Source: Review copy from the publisher.
Bottom line: A beautifully written philosophical memoir about a woman in search of a deeper understanding of love and her own heart.
Publisher’s Synopsis — The Going and Goodbye is an examination of loss and leaving and the search for meaning in the memories that remain. Tracing a path through rural Ohio, the American south and small towns of Mexico, these stories breathe life into a marriage and its dissolution; find a voice that fears mortality then faces it; explore faith in the face of these losses, and ultimately reveal the power of love and letting go.
Listen: Emily and I had a conversation with Shuly on our podcast, the Book Cougars, that you can listen to here: Episode 22.