Bomb Shelter is a collection of essays by Mary Laura Philpott who writes about her life and her “hostages to fortune” as Sir Francis Bacon once called the peril of loving one’s children and spouse. Her son had a seizure in the night and was later diagnosed with epilepsy and of course learning to manage that and her fears, especially as he grows older occupies her mind. But then her daughter has asthma, her father had heart trouble, and so on. Philpott is recounting her many worries and fears, her coping with them, with COVID quarantine, with aging, and the minutiae of modern life.
I think if I had read Bomb Shelter in a different year when the world was less fraught with war and peril I would have appreciated Philpott’s excellent writing style. She is personable and endearing. She writes as though she’s sharing coffee with you. But, this also reminded me of the comment from one of my professors after I shared with him my undergraduate thesis. He wrote two words, “So what?” They made me go back and rework my work to tie it into the larger world’s trade patterns and the economy of the colonial era. While reading this, I felt like saying those two words more than once.
This is a very inward-looking book, focused on her problems which loom very large to her but are very small in the scale of problems most people I know have. She has all the privileges of upper-middle-class life, good healthcare, economic security, and stability, and yet is always fretting. She often made me think of how my mom would describe a neighbor as hunting for molehills to make into mountains. She says she is happy, I take her at her word, but she is hunting for reasons to be unhappy.
I received an e-galley of Bomb Shelter from the publisher through NetGalley.