Dawn Davies describes her Mothers of Sparta as a “memoir in pieces,” an excellent way of describing this collection of essays that taken together share many important elements in her life. I think many women will recognize themselves in the fierceness of Davies’ maternal love, the joy, the pride, the sacrifice, and the pain. In some of these essays, she scrapes herself raw to tell the honest story of her life.
Davies captured my heart with the first paragraph of the first essay, “NIght Swim” describing the oppressive heat where “a deep breath leaves you unsatisfied, suspicious there is nothing life-giving at all in what you’ve inhaled, and you are left air-hungry…” Wow, if you have even spent a miserable hot, humid summer day trying to breathe hot air thick with moisture, you know exactly what that feels like. She brings that kind of detailed and honest observation to everything, to much more significant things than the humidity.
She writes about what it was like to move and move and move again as a child, about pregnancy, post-partum depression, raising children, divorce, being a soccer mom, and raising a child who is profoundly disabled and disturbed.
The title essay, “Mothers of Sparta” left me emotionally wrecked. Her son is diagnosed with autism and there was a constant struggle to get the schools to meet his needs, particularly since ignorant educators would assume that since he didn’t “look” disabled, he must be recalcitrant, stubborn, or disrespectful. Shockingly, autism was the easy part. In his teens, he gets a far more devastating diagnosis, one that will break your heart for him and his family. It was painful to read. It was certainly far more painful for Davies to write and even more painful to live.
I enjoyed Mothers of Sparta a lot. Many of the essays are stories of an ordinary life made extraordinary by Davies’ prose and insight. She writes an essay about baking a pie–humorous in many ways, but also one that gives insight into the exhaustion and fog of post-partum depression. Another story about ordering a custom-made dress over the internet is also a story about letting your children make their own mistakes, and what men sometimes demand of women. There is one essay, “Men I Would Have Slept With” is funny enough, but too silly, an odd duck when measured against the rest of her essays. I highly recommend this book.
Mothers of Sparta will be released on January 30th. I received an Advance Reading Copy from the publisher through a Shelf Awareness drawing.