Review of "Why Did I Ever"

By Mary Robison
Counterpoint Press, 2001
Review by Patricia Ferguson, Ph.D. on Dec 23rd 2002
Why Did I Ever

The reason for the title of the book, Why Did I Ever by Mary Robison, is never really made clear in her 200-page novel. The book is written in a diary format, with most entries numbered. The entries that are not numbered are given a title that sometimes explains the entry, at other times seems to be more of a non sequitur.

The book looks like just the kind of book I would love. It is written by a woman, and is about a woman who sounds at first much like the voice of one of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott. Although I have never read anything else by Robison, she has apparently written well enough in the past to have earned many awards. However, this book does not make me want to look back at her earlier writings.

Frankly, if it hadn’t been for the book jacket, I wouldn’t have known what she was talking about most of the time. As far as I could tell, the book doesn’t have a beginning, middle, or an end. One entry doesn’t follow from another, and the ones that follow up earlier entries are so far apart that I had to look back to see what she had said about the same topic before.

I would like to tell you what the plot is, but I’m not sure. Her life is extremely chaotic, as is her thinking.  It is possible that her style of writing was meant to show that inner chaos, and if so, she succeeded. The difficulty for the reader is that

Although I say all these things about this book, the fact is, there were times when she made me laugh out loud. An example: “What the hell kind of drug do I take to get out of this moment?” Yet, I made notes to myself in the book such as “What are we talking about here?” and “Who is talking to whom?” I was hoping to find the answers, but I really had to focus to stay with it. I don’t mind a complicated book but it isn’t that it’s complicated. It’s just hard to follow.

It seems that she is on a trip to see her son, and the vignettes are descriptions of events that occur on her trip. I use the word “seems” because it really is hard to follow the story, as I said. Anyway, the heroine has many problems besides a son in trouble. She has been married several times, has a boyfriend she doesn’t seem to like, and fears she is losing her job as a screenwriter. Writers are taught to “Show Don’t Tell.” Robison shows but never tells, to an extreme. I find that unfortunate because I think somewhere in there is a good plot and some good characters, but the style of writing makes it hard for the reader to care.

The novel comes together a bit if the reader decides to stick it out to the end. The characters and their relationship to her become more evident, as does the plot. Also, some of her more humorous entries are when she ends her sentences with a question. They tend to go something like this: “And I did this why?” or “You came here why?” It doesn’t sound so funny out of context here, but in context they are funny.

It was hard to stay with this book. I have so many good books to read that I don’t want to waste time on this but I do because there must be something to this. After all, she has won all these prestigious awards. What am I missing?

I am a reader, and a reviewer. But I am a reader, first, and that is whom she should be concerned with. Perhaps I should take a look at the earlier books, stories, whatever she has written before this that has won her so many awards. Then maybe it will make more sense, and be enjoyable to read. Perhaps you, too, have a favorite author whose voice you love, and no matter what they write, you love it, because you understand their voice. I think that this may be the case with this author. Since I haven’t read any of her earlier books, I have no reference, and I think that may have made a huge difference in enjoying or not enjoying this book.

I really did want to like this book. I bet if I recommended it to other women who like similar books that I do, at least half of them would like it. But I also think the other half would struggle to “get it,” and so I would not recommend this book to any of my friends. But I would probably, for myself, go and look for some of Robison’s earlier works and find the really good novels that have won her the awards. Those books might show me why I didn’t understand this book, too. 


© 2002 Patricia Ferguson



 Dr. Patricia Ferguson is a licensed clinical psychologist in northern California. She is also a published freelance writer and editor in many different areas, including ADVANCE for radiation technicians, MedioCom, and The Journal of Interpersonal Violence. She was honored to be placed in Who's Who of Women for the Year 2000. Her areas of interest are varied. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from San Diego State University and received her doctorate from Nova University in Florida. She enjoys traveling, camping, and playing guitar. She also has sold a few pieces of her artwork. Most importantly to her, she enjoys her family time, including her husband, daughter, 20, and son, 14.


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