Review: Life In Pieces by Dawn O’Porter
Part of the new Pandemic Reading section of my website
“You know when you are feeling anxious so you google the thing to make you feel better? Well, I googled ‘What are the drinking stats in Lockdown?’ I guess I just wanted to know I wasn’t going to be the only one ordering a new liver on Amazon when this is all over.”
That paragraph struck me as capturing the zeitgeist in 2020. A palpitating cloud of anxiety hovered over civilization while we all sat home and drank beneath it and waited for the storm to pass…still waiting. In 2020, Dawn O’Porter known primarily for her work as a fiction writer (The Cows, So Lucky, et al.) turned her Patreon blog, from the early days of lockdown into a book. “Life in Pieces: Thoughts from a year that changed us all” tracks the practical and emotional rollercoaster from the early days of the pandemic in Dawn’s life as she navigates the new reality thrust upon us all. Dawn’s brilliant sense of humor and effortlessly vivid writing detail her struggles with two boys who have a million questions and no school to attend, day drinking, Peleton workouts, managing her work, and continuing to engage with an exceedingly lovely group of friends who were all fighting similar battles in their versions of isolation, all while grieving the loss of a loved one. The book reads like a dear friend confiding in you as they give a taxonomy of their fears, doubts, joys, and quirks, along with a few recipes thrown into the mix.
In the interest of full disclosure, I know Dawn. I absolutely adore her as a human being, a writer, and a friend. Reading this earnest and open-hearted book made me feel like I was sipping my tenth margarita as Dawn regaled me with stories of potty training, karaoke blowouts, covid toe, and why the only reasonable response to perfectly cooked ribs is “BOOSH. BACK OF THE NET — 400 FOOT JIZZ.” I miss my friend, so I was always going to love this book.
With that said, “Life in Pieces” is truly great and delivers the sort of comfort found in shared misery. To read about the machinations of Dawn’s daily life with the anxiety induced by the pandemic swirling in her head will feel very familiar to anyone who picks up this book: “MY GOD THIS IS MENTAL.” We have all lived some version of this, and doing it atomized from one another made it much worse.
For all the fun and hearty laughs the book provides, I was also deeply affected by the ambient anxiety and guilt Dawn expressed surrounding being a parent. While I am a friend to several parents with young children, and am all too aware of the insane stress and demands that these little ones place on the psyche of the adults in their life (I had a three year old dismantle my entire personality and leave me in tears while babysitting one day — there is nothing they can do to you in Guantanamo Bay that scars like that), and while I have been party to intimate discussions of how difficult and demanding the motherhood game can be — hearing about it is not the same as living it, is it? It was eye-opening to hear just how loud the ambient voices of doubt -” I’m ruining them aren’t I?” -and shame could be. To which the only proper response is a stiff drink and to embrace the chaos “Turns out, if you totally give up on even attempting to nourish children intellectually, everyone is happier.”
In contrast to her struggles, I found myself deeply moved by the depth and breadth of Dawn’s female friendships. In her description of some of the characters and the dynamics of these friendships throughout the book, many of these relationships had become fully group chat and/or zoom-based as everyone sunk into their pandemic bubbles — I was struck by the complexity and wide emotional range of these friend groups.
“If I feel tears coming, I message a friend, maybe even a few at once, and say, ‘I’m having a bad moment. I can’t do this. I miss her so much’ And almost immediately I am met with support. Words that pull me together. Or sometimes their own sadness is reflected back, which reminds me I am not alone in mine,”
and then of course “The WhatsApp group for [her son’s] class is alive with swearing.” It left me so extraordinarily happy to hear that so many women, a few of whom I know, love, and deeply admire were enjoying such vibrant and fulfilling connections with one another. My friends, I saw, are part of a rich tapestry of truly meaningful, intimate female friendships. Nothing warms the heart like knowing those you love are experiencing this kind of abundant love and closeness across such a rich spectrum of amazing women.
I could go on and on about how fun, funny, compelling, and sometimes sad this book is. But all the quotes and anecdotes will lead to the same inescapable conclusion: You should read this book.
While I was trying to organize my thoughts and my big feelings about this book, I found a long review on Goodreads written by a woman named Elyse. At the end of her ninth paragraph(!), she stated: “Dawn O’Porter must be an absolute joy to be friends with.” This pierced my heart because it is as true a sentence as I’ve ever seen on the internet. True not only for me but for many people in our circle of friends. I hope everyone has a Dawn O’Porter in their life. But if you don’t, reading this gorgeous little book will give you a sickly sweet taste of what it is like to be in the presence of this immeasurably radiant soul.