Slow Motion: A True Story

Lily Burana reviews 'Slow Motion' by Dani Shapiro.

Topics: Books,

Growing up is an ambiguous concept and, in many cases, a seemingly arbitrary process. Rarely is the call to maturity as blatant and sudden as the events that jerked writer Dani Shapiro out of the last vestiges of her meandering girlhood. In her new memoir, “Slow Motion,” the author of the novels “Playing With Fire,” “Fugitive Blue” and “Picturing the Wreck” details the events surrounding the car accident that landed her parents in the intensive care unit, forcing Shapiro to bring her own life into sharp focus.

Memoirs by the young are something of a gamble — often the writers have neither the self-awareness nor the quantity (or quality) of life experience to warrant a book-length exploration. “Slow Motion” is the exception that proves the rule. As a pretty, pampered young girl from an Orthodox Jewish family living in northeastern New Jersey (the part of New Jersey the jokes come from, she writes), Shapiro grew up feeling torn between her parents, her religion and a desire for freedom from its constraints, and the rewards of developing her intellect vs. cruising by on her abundant beauty. Prior to the accident, she was a Sarah Lawrence student who took up with her best friend’s married stepfather, Lenny Klein, a flashy attorney who dolled her up in couture suits, trotted her around the world and showered her with lies and lavish gifts. She traded in college for the gilded cage, dropping out of school to pursue her acting, her ambivalence-ridden mistressing and her drinking. These events, and those that occur after the accident, are presented with the artful structure and language of a novel and the absorbing pace and intriguing details (running through the airport in her mink coat; tossing back screwdrivers on a lunch break from her hospital vigil; hiring a private investigator to track the activities of Lenny) of a true-crime thriller.

You Might Also Like

At its finest, Shapiro’s writing has the spare elegance of a thin, gold bracelet — with all the timeless appeal and fine craft that implies. The moment when she wheels her father in to see her mother for the first time since the accident is absolutely heart-rending, yet devoid of melodrama. Her self-examination is stark and untainted by self-pity, as during a boozy appraisal of a businessman during the plane ride to her parents’ bedside: “The whole notion of physical beauty has grown increasingly important to me as my intellectual curiosity has vanished … I have used myself as a physical instrument, slicing my way through the world with nothing but youth, long legs, and long blond hair. At times I think I have chosen the easy way, but every once in a while I realize that this may be the hardest way of all.”

Even as the tragedy brings out the very worst in Shapiro’s family, it ultimately brings out the best in her. Eventually, Shapiro decides to tend her own garden instead of being an exotic bloom, artfully arranged for display, then left to wilt in substance-addled oblivion. A great piece of writing and an inspirational tale for those who would consider trading substance for surface, “Slow Motion” illuminates the rocky road to integrity and maturity in graceful but wrenching steps.

Lily Burana is the author of three books. Follow her on twitter @lilyburana.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>