Lost Edens
by Jamie Patterson

Beaver's Pond, 2011. ISBN 978-1-592-98386-5.
Reviewed by Sharon Lippincott
Posted on 08/30/2011

Nonfiction: Memoir

Lost Edens could just as well be called Lost Innocence. While over eighty percent of the book is tightly focused on the few weeks during which her marriage ground to its agonized conclusion with a bare minimum of background information about events in the relationship leading up to that point, I inferred that author Jamie Patterson entered this marriage with a "Cleaver Family" set of illusions and expectations about marriage and the contract between husbands and wives. Some outer trappings of the stereotype had changed—Patterson's culinary skills were apparently limited to heating frozen pizza and hydrating muesli—but the emotional elements were apparently intact. Her entire self-image seemed bound up in her ability to please her errant spouse, and she seemed convinced that if she only tried harder, she could fix whatever was wrong and make him love her again, thus fulfilling her dream of living happily ever after. Ultimately she was forced to realize this was not going to happen, that the marriage was too broken to fix. It took her longer to realize that although she couldn't fix the marriage, she could fix herself.

The terms domestic abuse and domestic violence have been used to promote this book. In my opinion, these terms are inappropriately applied. If Patterson wrote anything implying her husband was abusive, I missed reading it. She reported on his behavior, without judgment or blame. She ultimately came to realize that he had emotional problems and accepted an appropriate degree of personal responsibility for the failed relationship. Without wishing to diminish the agony she experienced, based on her account, I can only understand it as the result of two misguided individuals locked in a co-dependent relationship that didn't work. Labeling the story as an example of abuse tends to perpetuate a stereotype of victimhood, and I do not see Patterson as a victim or even a survivor. She's a woman who transcended a pain-generating perspective. I see the book as an example of responsible and enlightened compassion.

I consider Lost Edens to be a brave account, specifically because she writes so openly and honestly about highly revealing personal observations many might consider pointless. Page after page records her endless obsessions with making the house perfect right down to the position of pillows on the bed, setting out exactly the right amount of cereal for her husband's breakfast, deciding whether or not to call him at work or what to say to avoid upsetting him. The phrase "the black Jeep I gave him" recurs like a mantra, signaling her growing sense of betrayal. Readers may want to whack her alongside the head, joining her family in wondering when she will finally "get it."

In the final analysis, tedium is the book's strength. The story is real on a molecular level, true to life and typical of the way hordes of people make sense of disturbing situations. She makes no attempt to downplay or defend inane thoughts and actions. It is a powerful example of the way admonitions from well-meaning friends and family can provoke defensiveness and drive their target into isolation. The take-away message here is as much for those who stand helplessly on the sidelines watching people they love cling to agonizing relationships and behavior as it is for those involved in such relationships. Despite the lack of background details that would tie up numerous loose ends and amplify understanding, the story offers hope for everyone experiencing or observing dysfunctional relationships.

Jamie Patterson is a writer, teacher, runner, and dog lover who spent most of her twenties trying to please everyone she encountered and help everyone she met. A former spokesperson for the Kansas City American Red Cross and the San Diego Girl Scouts, Jamie is now an academic editor. She lives in Minneapolis with her dog, Huey. Visit her website.

Check out our interview with the author of Lost Edens.

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