Mothers of Sparta

"Mothers of Sparta" by Dawn Davies

MOTHERS OF SPARTA: A Memoir in Pieces. By Dawn Davies. Flatiron Books. 272 pages. $24.99.

“Mothers of Sparta: A Memoir in Pieces” by Dawn Davies includes stories about our proximity to death. It also includes stories about the transformative moments in life: pregnancy, postpartum, divorce and so on. Davies writes with an imaginative voice laced with a self-deprecating humor.

The memoir’s chapters read like short essays, loosely following Davies from childhood to motherhood. In the opening chapter, “Night Swim,” Davies sits by the side of the pool and watches her young daughters “whoop and cry out in the night, like whistling rockets.” As her daughters swim, she suddenly sees them as adults, traveling, falling in love and facing illness. She steps inside to grab a camera.

“You can’t control any of this, but you will try to capture it, this light, this heat of them, their dual stars Castor and Pollux disappearing, shape-shifting again until they are babies in your arms, then they are women, then they are children enjoying a night swim.”

Davies captures those poignant moments when one experiences the beauty and tragedy of being a mother, of loving and letting go.

Several of the chapters are structured into lists. “Men I Would Have Slept With” includes a wide variety of men (and the reasons why Davies chose them) from Jason Bateman (“Because freckles”) and John Irving (“Because Irving has a humorous way of employing the exclamation mark!”), to Hermann Rorschach (“Because every time I take a Rorschach test I see things so dirty I scare myself. I’m betting he did, too.”)

A chapter titled “Field Manual — Divorce and Remarriage: Suburban Ops” begins with a preface. “This Field Manual establishes doctrine for nonmilitary operations in a divorce and remarriage (D&R) environment. It is based on existing doctrine and lessons learned from recent combat operations. Additional D&R doctrine is being developed.” Beneath this humor is a deep sadness for her failed marriage and the effects of the divorce on their young children.

By the end, Davies feels like an old friend, one who reminds us to both laugh at, and marvel over, the ebb and flow of life.

Reviewer Amy Mercer is a writer in Charleston.