Splinters: A Memoir by Leslie Jamison - review by Samantha Ellis

Samantha Ellis

Getting over the Tumbleweed

Splinters: A Memoir


Granta 272pp £16.99

In her bestselling essay collection The Empathy Exams (2014), American writer Leslie Jamison revealed that an ex-boyfriend called her a ‘wound dweller’. In writing about wounds, her own and those of other people (especially those whose concerns are usually dismissed), she has turned empathy into an art. The author of one novel and several other books of non-fiction, Jamison engages so intensely that her work feels like memoir, even when it is not. Now, in her new work, Splinters, the focus is explicitly on her own life. Its title refers not only to its form – short, sharp essays – but also to its story of how she became a mother and how, soon afterwards, her marriage disintegrated, leaving her trying to rebuild herself. It is animated by the same ravenous curiosity and exacting thinking as her earlier work.

In the raw, compelling first section, she and her baby arrive at their new, temporary home with nappies spilling out of bin bags. She notices that the nappies are patterned with drawings of scrambled eggs and bacon: ‘Why put breakfast on diapers? I might have asked, if there had been another adult in the room. There was not.’ She is dwelling in her wound, but she is also probing it, trying to understand it. Later, joking that she tells her writing students to ‘get specific’ so often that she has the words iced on a cake for them, she makes sure to specify that the frosting is red and the cake is a chocolate one. 

She is witty about how she squares the joys and pressures of motherhood with her fierce desire to work. There’s a funny scene in which she describes doing a photoshoot to promote her book in her living room while her mother is looking after her daughter in the bedroom. ‘Everyone

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