Theroux’s ‘The Journal Keeper’ celebrates the examined life
Memoir is an ode to the journal at its best – as literary and psychological helpmate, as a “flashlight” for self-discovery and as “a place to save small places of beauty.”
by Pamela Miller
I ran across this book in an unusual way. Near the end of a packed flight to Atlanta, my seatmate, a lovely woman in her 60s, and I got to talking about newspapers (my living) and books (hers). As we deplaned, I expressed regret that we hadn’t started chatting earlier. As if to provide her half of that lost conversation, she pulled a book — her brand new book — out of her purse and pressed it on me as a gift.
She was Phyllis Theroux, a writer and teacher from Ashland, Va., and the book was “The Journal Keeper: A Memoir” (Atlantic Monthly Press, 281 pages, $24). When I finished reading it, I had marked more than 20 passages that I wanted to return to, or even copy out into my own journal. (more…)
Phyllis Theroux is best known for a perceptive memoir, “California and Other States of Grace,” and stints as an essayist for The MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour and House Beautiful. She excels at closely observed and elegantly expressed portraits of domestic life that fondly recall the tradition of E.B. White.
Theroux is a lovely writer, but she doesn’t publish often. In her latest book, The Journal Keeper: A Memoir, Theroux suggests that writing without a tenured job or a supportive spouse presents special obstacles. She also confesses to writer’s block. When a writing project about Theroux’s mother hit a creative impasse, a fellow writer suggested that Theroux put the project aside “and work on something a bit easier – like editing your journals.” The result is “The Journal Keeper,” which distills six years of Theroux’s journals to detail her life from 2000 to 2005. (more…)
The Journal Keeper is discussed along with two other recent memoirs, all tackling how women cope with life’s challenges. Of Phyllis Theroux, Juliet Whitman writes, “Theroux seems to possess a certain calmness and wisdom. She is not… plagued by the sense that something essential is missing from her life. On the contrary, looking over her past writings, she feels “that a hand much larger and more knowing than my own was guiding my life and pen across the page.” (more…)
Writing a journal is an intensely personal act, an exercise in which one’s most private thoughts and painful experiences can be set forth through an act of deliberate self-examination. So when a writer of Theroux’s stature chooses to share such introspective feelings with the world, readers are afforded an unparalleled opportunity to observe how such crystalline powers of observation are developed and nurtured. Friendships, finances, homes, health: all have gloriously embraced her or just as unceremoniously abandoned her. Through it all, however, one constant remained: Theroux’s steadfast devotion to recording her emotions and impressions in journals, which proved to be a haven where she could reflect upon and retreat from life’s challenges in order to discover paths of clarity and purpose. A subtle and sympathetic witness, Theroux is an equally ardent proponent of meeting confrontations head-on. Editing more than six years of her personal reflections, Theroux goes public in this elegiac memoir of love and loss, an elegant tribute to the resiliency of human nature.
Valley Haggard sits down with Phyllis to discuss The Journal Keeper and the benefits and challenges of journal writing in this Style Weekly Interview, which begins: “Don’t be fooled by the placid scene of a wing chair on a swatch of grass in front of a white picket fence, which appears on the jacket cover of Phyllis Theroux’s memoir, The Journal Keeper, published this month by Grove/Atlantic.
An unexpected love affair, 9/11, Hurricane Isabel, financial disasters, windfalls, insecurities, creative angst, miraculous blessings and all manner of death zing through the pages of Theroux’s life in her 60s, as chronicled in her journal from 2000 to 2005.”
Read the entire article on the Style Weekly website.