Lily Burana reviews 'Slow Motion' by Dani Shapiro.
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.
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's most recent book is "I Love a Man in Uniform: A Memoir of Love, War, and Other Battles." Her resolution for 2013 is to kick the Diet Coke habit. More Lily Burana.
More Related Stories
- Nancy Jo Sales on L.A. celeb robbers: "The Bling Ring kids were depressed"
- “Arrested Development,” hurry up and get here so you can stop being so annoying
- Must-do's: What we like this week
- Josh Ritter makes his "Blood on the Tracks"
- I don't hate millennials anymore!
- What's 2013's "Gone Girl"? Here are this summer's best reads
- Fox executive behind "Does Someone Have to Go?" leaving the network
- Hillary Clinton memoir shows up on Amazon
- A brief history of Jennifer Weiner's literary fights
- First look: Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard shine in "The Immigrant”
- No women allowed: Summer music festivals are dudefests, again
- Vivica A. Fox tapes anti-gun PSA in front of poster for her movie
- This is what Guy Fieri looks like as a balloon
- Mariah Carey's rambling, cursing, dress-popping "Good Morning America" concert
- Fox's new reality TV show threatens regular people with unemployment
- Amanda Bynes arrested after hurling bong from window
- Steamy lesbian-sex movie has Cannes abuzz
- Stop what you're doing and go watch "Borgen"
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- Mike Judge: "Bowling for Columbine" made me pro-gun
- New York chef serves up eight-course meal around "Arrested Development" jokes
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11