Review: Signs of Life by Natalie Taylor

Title: Signs of Life

Author: Natalie Taylor

Genre/Pages: Memoir/320

Publisher: Broadway

Release Date: April 12, 2011

Rating: 2.5 bookmarks (borrow it)

Source: purchased

Natalie’s One-Sentence Synopsis:  Natalie Taylor was happily married, 5-months pregnant, and teaching high school English when her beloved husband died in a freak accident leaving her, at age 24, a widow and single mom-to-be.

At the start of 2011, I wrote a post highlighting some of the memoirs I was looking forward to in the upcoming year and Signs of Life was on the list.  Hooked by the synopsis, I wanted to know how Taylor managed to deal with such a devastating loss in the face of the birth of her first child.

In her author’s note, Taylor tells readers that the book is essentially a compilation of journal entries that she wrote following Josh’s death and acknowledges that her emotions were raw and that she isn’t necessarily proud of some of things she said or felt.

Each month after Josh’s death is marked by a new chapter in the book, and Taylor incorporates literature into each with quotes or excerpts that she then connects with her emotions.  The memoir moved along, but I often found myself cringing at some of Natalie’s inner monologues, especially during interaction with her in-laws.

While I empathized with her, I ultimately found her some of her actions unsympathetic because she seemed to redirect much of her grief and anger toward Josh’s mom and sister.  These women were all grieving Josh, but Natalie is easily annoyed by their bumbling attempts to help her.  I felt awful judging her–she openly admitted to being abashed by some of her actions–but his mom and sister were also reeling from the sudden loss, and grief manifests itself differently in everyone.

Natalie’s career as a teacher and the birth of her son Kai seemed to help pull her through the morass and she did find comfort with her family, friends, and professionals.  She attended a family wedding shortly after Josh’s death, celebrated holidays, and went on family vacations, all indicators that Taylor is a strong woman who was doing her best in the worst of circumstances.

While initially riveting, the writing was a bit uneven and my frustration with Natalie’s lack of ability to see the suffering in others caused my attention to wane.  Writing this memoir was most likely cathartic for Taylor, but she might have been better served to keep the journal entries private and to instead write a memoir a few years removed.

7 Comments

  • At 2011.08.13 17:56, bermudaonion (Kathy) said:

    Sorry this didn’t live up to your expectations. I do think some people lash out at those they love when dealing with grief or frustration, but it would get old to read about.

    • At 2011.08.13 21:38, Natalie said:

      I can’t imagine being in Natalie’s shoes and know grief is different for everyone but just wish she would have been a bit easier (even in her mind!) on her mother and sister-in-law. I think they were just trying to help and guess that their grating personalities got even more so when they tried to help and she was struggling so much with the grief…

    • At 2011.08.14 02:47, vivienne said:

      I think this is one of those books that would make me cry. So I have avoided it. I just can’t cope with this kind of memoir.

      • At 2011.08.14 14:45, Dishy said:

        I’ve been on a memoir kick this summer. I’ve finished three so far (quite good for a gal who normally shuns everything but cookbooks!) But have to agree w/ Vivienne. I don’t do well with grief, my own or others. Another great review, Nat, but I will have to pass.

        • At 2011.08.14 18:06, Kathleen said:

          It does sound like she would have been better off waiting and writing this book after more time had passed so she could have processed all of her feelings and emotions better.

          • At 2011.08.14 21:47, Jenners said:

            Oh dear … it does sound like maybe she should have waited a bit. I’m sure it isn’t going to feel good to have some of that out there is public at some point.

            • At 2011.08.21 16:35, Jennifer said:

              I have been noticing that there are a lot of memoirs about grief coming out lately! And I am daunted by them. While part of me reads the synopsis thinking, I bet this book will be so good the other half of me thinks, wow, this book will probably be incredibly difficult to read. Still, the fact that the author of this one is an English teacher intrigues me and I would have no idea about what to do if faced with the same set of circumstances.