cover image You Could Make This Place Beautiful: A Memoir

You Could Make This Place Beautiful: A Memoir

Maggie Smith. One Signal, $28.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-98218-585-5

Poet Smith (Goldenrod) eschews the traditional memoir format in this mixed take on her recent divorce and its aftermath. “I’ve wondered if I can even call this book a memoir,” she writes. “It’s not something that happened in the past that I’m recalling for you.... I’m still living through this story as I write it.” In winkingly titled chapters (“Email, Subject Line: Update;” “A Half Hour to Cry”), Smith details the collapse of her marriage with a bard’s eye for detail: a postcard with another woman’s name in her husband’s messenger bag, “open, its unbuckled flap hanging over the back of the chair”; the discovery of half the family’s savings withdrawn after an argument; and coparenting, through separation and a pandemic, before her husband moved 500 miles away. Smith often breaks the fourth wall to explain her writing process, which reads as a mix of self-effacing, self-knowing, and, occasionally, self-satisfied, especially when accompanied by aphoristic asides. (“A memoir is about ‘the art of memory,’ and part of the art is in the curation,” she writes in an imagined response to an imagined reader’s query. “Next question.”) This lyrical personal reflection is undoubtedly affecting, but as often it feels affected. Agent: Joy Tutela, David Black Literary. (Apr.)