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The Art of Vanishing: A Memoir of Wanderlust

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A young woman chafing at the confines of marriage confronts the high cost of craving freedom and adventure At twenty-five, as her wedding date approached, Laura Smith began to feel trapped. Not by her fiance, who shared her appetite for adventure, but by the unsettling idea that it was hard to be at once married and free. Laura wanted her life to be different. She wanted her A young woman chafing at the confines of marriage confronts the high cost of craving freedom and adventure At twenty-five, as her wedding date approached, Laura Smith began to feel trapped. Not by her fiance, who shared her appetite for adventure, but by the unsettling idea that it was hard to be at once married and free. Laura wanted her life to be different. She wanted her marriage to be different. And she found in the strangely captivating story of another restless young woman determined to live without constraints both an enticement and a challenge. Barbara Newhall Follett was a free-spirited trailblazer who published her first novel at 11, enlisted as a deck hand on a boat bound for the south China seas at 15 and was one of the first women to hike the Appalachian trail. Then in December 1939, when she was not much older than Laura, she walked out of her apartment on a quiet tree-lined street in Brookline, leaving behind a fraying marriage, and vanished without a trace. Obsessed by her story, Laura set off to find out what had happened. The Art of Vanishing is a riveting mystery and a piercing exploration of marriage and convention that asks deep and uncomfortable questions: Why do we give up on our childhood dreams? Is marriage a golden noose? Must we find ourselves in the same row houses with Pottery Barn lamps telling our kids to behave? Searingly honest and written with a raw intensity, it will challenge you to rethink your most intimate decisions and may just upend your life.


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A young woman chafing at the confines of marriage confronts the high cost of craving freedom and adventure At twenty-five, as her wedding date approached, Laura Smith began to feel trapped. Not by her fiance, who shared her appetite for adventure, but by the unsettling idea that it was hard to be at once married and free. Laura wanted her life to be different. She wanted her A young woman chafing at the confines of marriage confronts the high cost of craving freedom and adventure At twenty-five, as her wedding date approached, Laura Smith began to feel trapped. Not by her fiance, who shared her appetite for adventure, but by the unsettling idea that it was hard to be at once married and free. Laura wanted her life to be different. She wanted her marriage to be different. And she found in the strangely captivating story of another restless young woman determined to live without constraints both an enticement and a challenge. Barbara Newhall Follett was a free-spirited trailblazer who published her first novel at 11, enlisted as a deck hand on a boat bound for the south China seas at 15 and was one of the first women to hike the Appalachian trail. Then in December 1939, when she was not much older than Laura, she walked out of her apartment on a quiet tree-lined street in Brookline, leaving behind a fraying marriage, and vanished without a trace. Obsessed by her story, Laura set off to find out what had happened. The Art of Vanishing is a riveting mystery and a piercing exploration of marriage and convention that asks deep and uncomfortable questions: Why do we give up on our childhood dreams? Is marriage a golden noose? Must we find ourselves in the same row houses with Pottery Barn lamps telling our kids to behave? Searingly honest and written with a raw intensity, it will challenge you to rethink your most intimate decisions and may just upend your life.

30 review for The Art of Vanishing: A Memoir of Wanderlust

  1. 4 out of 5

    Dot

    Read the Wikipedia page on Barbara Follett instead of this bloated memoir. It's fine for the first several chapters, but descends into tedium when Smith starts wanting an open marriage. The author is so annoying, whinging about problems she literally created herself, I was rooting for her husband to walk out. The only intriguing aspect is when the author searches extensively for a figure in Follett's life but comes up empty-handed, then turns it over to a librarian and receives the precise detail Read the Wikipedia page on Barbara Follett instead of this bloated memoir. It's fine for the first several chapters, but descends into tedium when Smith starts wanting an open marriage. The author is so annoying, whinging about problems she literally created herself, I was rooting for her husband to walk out. The only intriguing aspect is when the author searches extensively for a figure in Follett's life but comes up empty-handed, then turns it over to a librarian and receives the precise details within a couple of days. Honestly, I'd rather have read a book about the librarian.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Cristine Mermaid

    This cover and title appealed to me when I was putting new releases out so I read the blurb and I felt great hope that this was going to be a book that I would relate to. The reviews/rating vary wildly and now that I've read it, I understand why. Either, you feel this way, you 'get' the restlessness, the longing for something more, the feeling of suffocating from the typical American life or you don't. I get it. I can relate to her feelings of growing up and seeing society having one day after a This cover and title appealed to me when I was putting new releases out so I read the blurb and I felt great hope that this was going to be a book that I would relate to. The reviews/rating vary wildly and now that I've read it, I understand why. Either, you feel this way, you 'get' the restlessness, the longing for something more, the feeling of suffocating from the typical American life or you don't. I get it. I can relate to her feelings of growing up and seeing society having one day after another that looks the same and is a cycle of work, chores, work , chores, work, chores, and being horrified at the idea of it. I noticed some of the reviewers felt insulted that she wanted nothing to do with the lifestyle that they lived and loved but I don't know why, she didn't say there was anything wrong with it, just that it's not for her. I understand it. It resonated deeply with me on so many levels , many of which are too personal for me to even discuss in a public forum. I actually felt that I could have/should have written such a book because her words articulated much of my own experiences and feelings. It was incredibly reassuring because certainly if I am this way and so is she, then there are others. Her complete lack of interest in domesticity or a life of routine , her not understanding why her friends longed for these things that seemed like a trap, her yearnings and longings, I could have written these same words. The story goes between her musings of her own life and marriage and the story of Barbara Follett, a child prodigy born in 1914 , who vanished. Barbara was a writer and her books were about living the extraordinary life, not being restricted by the times and society she lived in, about becoming part of the sea and belonging to no one. She vanished and no one has been able to discover what became of her. Laura, the author, becomes borderline obsessed with solving the mystery and I found both Barbara's story and Laura's trying to uncover her mysteries to be utterly compelling. I can not think of the last time a book resonated with me this strongly. I have so frequently been disappointed in the last few years with memoirs that fill me with hope that i will be able to relate but then let me down. This did not. This book 'got' me. This is the book that finally convinced me to start writing again.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    Definitely a case of it's me, not you, just not connecting with it, decided to move on. Definitely a case of it's me, not you, just not connecting with it, decided to move on.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Dana (pagestoreadfl)

    3.5 stars-- Giving this book a rating took me 24 hours after finishing it to do. Laura Smith is restless. She is young and married, yet feels trapped. While she is grappling with this, she works on researching Barbara Follett who disappeared at a young age. As she tells the story of Follett, Laura tells her story. One that is full of adventure in travels, work, and even her marriage. While I enjoyed both aspects of the story, I just did not feel that they gelled together too much. Though there w 3.5 stars-- Giving this book a rating took me 24 hours after finishing it to do. Laura Smith is restless. She is young and married, yet feels trapped. While she is grappling with this, she works on researching Barbara Follett who disappeared at a young age. As she tells the story of Follett, Laura tells her story. One that is full of adventure in travels, work, and even her marriage. While I enjoyed both aspects of the story, I just did not feel that they gelled together too much. Though there were a couple similarities between Barbara and Laura, not enough that their stories should be told in parallel story lines.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

    I had really high hopes for this book, but it never seemed to really come together for me. I will say that Barbara Newhall Follett's story was fascinating and well-written, as was the author's investigation into what happened to her. The author's own memoir, however, threaded throughout this investigation felt forced into Barbara's narrative. It read like two books tangled together. I had really high hopes for this book, but it never seemed to really come together for me. I will say that Barbara Newhall Follett's story was fascinating and well-written, as was the author's investigation into what happened to her. The author's own memoir, however, threaded throughout this investigation felt forced into Barbara's narrative. It read like two books tangled together.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Martha

    This book does not live up to its title. The story of Barbara Follett is interesting; the author’s journey as a writer and a wife in an open marriage is less so.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    Laura Smith became rather obsessed with the life of Barbara Follet, a young woman who walked away from her family in 1939 and was never heard from again. Barbara had published a novel at age 11 and become a sailor at 15. All through THE ART OF VANISHING, Laura correlates their 2 lives as Linda begins to question restraints her marriage seems to impose. I enjoyed reading this book which I received for an honest opinion. I'd rate THE ART OF VANISHING 3.5. Laura Smith became rather obsessed with the life of Barbara Follet, a young woman who walked away from her family in 1939 and was never heard from again. Barbara had published a novel at age 11 and become a sailor at 15. All through THE ART OF VANISHING, Laura correlates their 2 lives as Linda begins to question restraints her marriage seems to impose. I enjoyed reading this book which I received for an honest opinion. I'd rate THE ART OF VANISHING 3.5.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Wayfinding Woman

    I have such mixed feelings about this book. I found the story of Barbara Newell Follett fascinating. The author’s description of her research into Follett’s life was also great. What didn’t quite work for me was the author’s attempt to parallel her relationship issues with Follett’s life. The attempted connections seemed forced. All in all, I’m glad I read this book because it introduced me to Follett and her works. 3.5 stars

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kirsty

    The Art of Vanishing, which tells the parallel stories of a historic disappearance and the author's own experiences with love and travel, is utterly fascinating. Smith has woven together both histories incredibly well, and I could hardly put it down. The perfect book for a long flight. The Art of Vanishing, which tells the parallel stories of a historic disappearance and the author's own experiences with love and travel, is utterly fascinating. Smith has woven together both histories incredibly well, and I could hardly put it down. The perfect book for a long flight.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lindsey

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. A beautiful, gripping, and provoking book. Smith skillfully interweaves the story of Barbara with her own; she had me always wondering what would happen next in each plot line, always wanting more. The prose is beautiful; you get the sense that each sentence was carefully constructed. The amount of research and work Smith put toward finding out what happened to Barbara and understanding her life is impressive. While I can understand how some readers might not want to come along on that journey, A beautiful, gripping, and provoking book. Smith skillfully interweaves the story of Barbara with her own; she had me always wondering what would happen next in each plot line, always wanting more. The prose is beautiful; you get the sense that each sentence was carefully constructed. The amount of research and work Smith put toward finding out what happened to Barbara and understanding her life is impressive. While I can understand how some readers might not want to come along on that journey, I loved how—especially later in the book—Smith talked about all her research. It made me feel as if I were right by her side every step of the way, trying to solve the mystery of what happened to Barbara. She brought that same immediacy to her own storyline. It was often gut-wrenching to be there in real time with her as she and P.J. navigated the choppy waters of an open relationship. But without that immediacy the book would have been much less powerful. It feels like she held nothing back—which undoubtedly made the book stronger.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Karen Ng

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I was attracted by the wanderlust part in the title... But I abandoned the book half way in,which rarely happens to me. I'm just not the type to abandon a book. Even writing a review for this book is considered a waste of my time. So a short one, then moving on in real life... Which the author fails to appreciate. The first 2/3 of the book is a biography of Barbara Follett- a person that I have no interest in. Both Follett and the author were Peter Pan wannabes. I'm in my 50s, happily enjoying m I was attracted by the wanderlust part in the title... But I abandoned the book half way in,which rarely happens to me. I'm just not the type to abandon a book. Even writing a review for this book is considered a waste of my time. So a short one, then moving on in real life... Which the author fails to appreciate. The first 2/3 of the book is a biography of Barbara Follett- a person that I have no interest in. Both Follett and the author were Peter Pan wannabes. I'm in my 50s, happily enjoying my life, reading, spending time with friends, traveling, and learning new things. In other words- I grew up.... And I love where I am.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sophy H

    Whilst this was well written and clearly Laura Smith had invested hours of research into the disappearance of Barbara Follett, this book still managed to end up being somehow disappointing! I think the cyclical nature of both Follett's story and Smith's own woeful tale of immature, open marriage managed to reduce both women's experience to petulant flightiness and whimsicality! Running around the world to escape yourself always smacks of desperation and avoidance, and I think Smith found herself Whilst this was well written and clearly Laura Smith had invested hours of research into the disappearance of Barbara Follett, this book still managed to end up being somehow disappointing! I think the cyclical nature of both Follett's story and Smith's own woeful tale of immature, open marriage managed to reduce both women's experience to petulant flightiness and whimsicality! Running around the world to escape yourself always smacks of desperation and avoidance, and I think Smith found herself in Follett in this manner. That doesn't always make for interesting reading however. Well there we are.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    Laura Smith investigates the disappearance Barbara Newhall Follett, a formerly-famous child prodigy, circa the 1930s. She also explores her own feelings about living a small, safe life vs. a big, adventurous life. The book goes back and forth between the two and while I didn't think they worked that well together, they were separately interesting and worthy stories. I found her writing to be notably strong and enjoyed this a lot overall. Laura Smith investigates the disappearance Barbara Newhall Follett, a formerly-famous child prodigy, circa the 1930s. She also explores her own feelings about living a small, safe life vs. a big, adventurous life. The book goes back and forth between the two and while I didn't think they worked that well together, they were separately interesting and worthy stories. I found her writing to be notably strong and enjoyed this a lot overall.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Bree Hill

    (Listened to this on audio from the library) been making my way through it the past couple of days. This is one of those books I went into expecting to love. I love memoirs by women and adding a woman who lives with wanderlust is the icing on the cake for me! I love travel memoirs. It also, although nonfiction, has one of my favorite tropes..women separated by time and one is searching for the other in some way or their lives are parallel in some way. This one missed the mark for me though. The (Listened to this on audio from the library) been making my way through it the past couple of days. This is one of those books I went into expecting to love. I love memoirs by women and adding a woman who lives with wanderlust is the icing on the cake for me! I love travel memoirs. It also, although nonfiction, has one of my favorite tropes..women separated by time and one is searching for the other in some way or their lives are parallel in some way. This one missed the mark for me though. The author is this restless young woman trying to figure things out and becomes interested..infatuated..obsessed with this woman Barbara who disappeared years ago. GREAT..this is a great recipe for a story, but it just kind of fell flat for me. Maybe I wanted more, something different.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kara

    The description of this book was far better than the book itself. The author's search for what happened to child prodigy/novelist/adventurer/missing person Barbara Newhall Follett was anti-climatic. And her ideas on being married yet free were simply immature and deluded. What!? An open marriage didn't bring you closer together and strengthen your relationship? Wow, shocking! (insert very dramatic eye roll here) I gave it 2 stars instead of 1 only because the stories about Barbara were interesti The description of this book was far better than the book itself. The author's search for what happened to child prodigy/novelist/adventurer/missing person Barbara Newhall Follett was anti-climatic. And her ideas on being married yet free were simply immature and deluded. What!? An open marriage didn't bring you closer together and strengthen your relationship? Wow, shocking! (insert very dramatic eye roll here) I gave it 2 stars instead of 1 only because the stories about Barbara were interesting. Overall though, not worth the read.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Candice

    This is a book about the need for some personalities to be in perpetual motion. I was one of them and still am to a certain degree although now I have had to figure out how to move while being rooted. The author is seeking herself while trying to track down the mysterious disappearance of Barbara Follett, a child prodigy who started writing about escaping the world as a child. In this hunt, Smith comes to insights about her own restless life. "But that moment on the deck of the vigilant, as she s This is a book about the need for some personalities to be in perpetual motion. I was one of them and still am to a certain degree although now I have had to figure out how to move while being rooted. The author is seeking herself while trying to track down the mysterious disappearance of Barbara Follett, a child prodigy who started writing about escaping the world as a child. In this hunt, Smith comes to insights about her own restless life. "But that moment on the deck of the vigilant, as she stood in the dark, heading off to a new adventure, Barbara had finally found what she was looking for. She wanted motion. There was no single place for Barbara, no single life. She wanted all the places so she could be endlessly stirred by wonder...All of us wish more than one life and the great art of it is in the blending the many lives into one." "I often felt rather than trying to actually spend time together in a meaningful way we were crossing things or people off our to do list." But the restless people in his story are actually remarkably decisive, only their decisions tend to be more about what they don’t want than what they do. He had never been aware of seeking for anything in particular except when he came to these moments of instinctive rejection…When the characters find what they’re looking for, they seize it with steely certainty."

  17. 4 out of 5

    Emily Philbin

    I was drawn to this book because I, too, sort of "vanished" if you will: I took a leave of absence and moved to Ireland for a year. I felt the same desire for something new, for freedom and adventure, and felt bogged down/dissatisfied by the routine (or rut) I formed. I needed something different and went for it and it was the best decision I have ever made. Yet, I could not connect to Laura's ennui -- I just don't know that she put it into words that helped me to despite experiencing it myself. I was drawn to this book because I, too, sort of "vanished" if you will: I took a leave of absence and moved to Ireland for a year. I felt the same desire for something new, for freedom and adventure, and felt bogged down/dissatisfied by the routine (or rut) I formed. I needed something different and went for it and it was the best decision I have ever made. Yet, I could not connect to Laura's ennui -- I just don't know that she put it into words that helped me to despite experiencing it myself. Perhaps because some of what she focused on related to marriage and I am single? Not sure. What I did like was the mystery of Barbara. I found that part of the book was far more intriguing as she explored the mystery. Can absolutely see the parallels between Barbara and Laura and yes, even Emily, but it just didn't connect enough to make me engrossed by it. One last thing: I "read" the audiobook; I did like that the author read her own book and enjoyed listening to her voice overall.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Theresa

    I liked this more than I thought I would. I rarely read contemporary memoirs, which isn't surprising given my interest in history. But Smith set her own story of love and marriage against that of Barbara Follett, a celebrated child author who disappeared as a young woman in 1939. Smith writes very well about Follett's life and of her attempts to figure out what happened to her. Those parts were fascinating. I liked this more than I thought I would. I rarely read contemporary memoirs, which isn't surprising given my interest in history. But Smith set her own story of love and marriage against that of Barbara Follett, a celebrated child author who disappeared as a young woman in 1939. Smith writes very well about Follett's life and of her attempts to figure out what happened to her. Those parts were fascinating.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ekaterina

    I so wanted to like this book A LOT. I wanted this book to be the glimpse into my own mind. However, I felt like the author herself did not feel like HER experiences warranted a book. I was disappointed to be constantly pulled away into a parallel story about Barbara. I wanted to know about Laura. The little that I did get I enjoyed - I wanted more.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    Reads like a first book yes, but a very skillful examination nonetheless of marriage, relationships and wanting to be your own person while with someone else. I very much look forward to what Laura Smith does next. This writer has a very bright future ahead of her.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    2.5, if I could. Will write a review after our book club meeting.

  22. 5 out of 5

    ELK

    This book tries to be both biography and memoir. Whether or not it succeeds is debatable, but I still ate it up. At times the comparison Smith draws between herself and child-prodigy-turned-missing-woman Barbara Follett feels like a stretch, other times almost irresponsible. The two women’s stories don’t always align, and when the author stretches to bring them together, it sets up false equivalencies. That’s not to say Smith mishandles her subject. She is a sensitive and careful writer with an This book tries to be both biography and memoir. Whether or not it succeeds is debatable, but I still ate it up. At times the comparison Smith draws between herself and child-prodigy-turned-missing-woman Barbara Follett feels like a stretch, other times almost irresponsible. The two women’s stories don’t always align, and when the author stretches to bring them together, it sets up false equivalencies. That’s not to say Smith mishandles her subject. She is a sensitive and careful writer with an endless fascination for the woman whose life she draws inspiration from. Is it self-indulgent to insert your experiments with polyamory into the life of a woman who lived and died tragically? Probably, but I am glad for the attempt all the same. It's an honest and earnest exercise. And Smith is fully aware of this. She writes: “The vanished woman is perfect because she is whoever we want her to be. She doesn’t grow old, or fat, or ugly; she doesn’t say things we don’t like. She is frozen, no longer her own, but ours. Would I have written about Barbara if she hadn’t disappeared? Probably not. It was the metamorphosis from woman to enigma that captivated me most. I was using her story for my own purposes. I was not so much telling her story as appropriating it.” (Pg. 172) Notes In Sartre’s Being and Nothingness there is a section on “bad faith”—behaving without sincerity, lying to oneself… What troubled me most about the concept of bad faith was not that we might lie to others, but that we might lie to ourselves. Self-deception is degrading. You wish you could have just a smidge more integrity. Your falseness lingers in the air and follows you through the day. In the carefully scripted wedding rituals, I detected bad faith. (Pg. 31) The dresses, the napkins, the seating charts seemed an initiation into a domestic life that frightened me, one I had observed as a child and had sworn never to take part in. The wedding was an opportunity to declare, most of all to myself, that I could live according to whatever rules I wanted. (Pg. 34) I felt the seductive appeal of controlling my surroundings, of nesting among picturesque things. (Pg. 35) To be loved as ardently as Helen and Wilson appear to have loved Barbara is life affirming and confidence building. No wonder she felt she could tear off into the wild: she was constantly reminded that she was strong and capable. But such love can also be suffocating, especially if you want to be the one telling your own story. The person in the room wishes to be left alone. (Pg. 41) Lying on the raft, looking out at the wooded peninsulas, the rocks and pines that lined the shore, and the sun sparkling on the water, Barbara suddenly understood something. The universe was huge, and Lake Sunapee was just a speck in it. God must have to use a microscope, she thought. She was small, her parents were small, and everything they worried or thought about was small. Why couldn’t they see what she saw? She felt lucky, lying on her raft in the lake, not being drawn into such trivial things. The world was beautiful and they were missing it. It would all be over before they knew it. (Pg. 53) Barbara was developing a philosophy, the root of which contained a contradiction. Everyone should do exactly as they please and run off to the mountains whenever the mood struck them, but they should also be unerringly loyal. She had written, “There should be nothing to make a man or a woman happier than a pack of real honest-to-goodness friends, who will always stand by you in your troubles of which you are sure to have many.” In the real world, complete loyalty is hard enough to find, all the more so paired with its opposite—total freedom. But Barbara fervently embraced these two warring ideas. (Pg. 55) Often those who write about women who have vanished are men with an impulse to eviscerate women, or women with an impulse to eviscerate themselves. I was interested in a different kind of vanishing: the kind where you disentangle yourself from your life and start fresh. People would miss you. You could miss them. You could live at a peaceful distance, loving them in a way that is simpler than the way you love someone you have to deal with in everyday life. You hadn’t abandoned them. You were just gone. Mysterious rather than rejecting. Vanishing was a way to reclaim your life. (Pg. 65) Where is the dividing line in a love like this? At some point, love crosses over from being the buoy that lifts you up to the tide that drags you under. (Pg. 68) At one point one of the wives realizes that her husband seems real to her only when he’s gone: she’s “nearer to him when waiting.” Reading this reminded me of the Japanese word bitai, which means erotic allure, or getting as close as possible to the object of your affection without actually obtaining it. The word suggests that love is best in the fertile soil of the mind. Later, when Luella’s husband arrives home early, she is disappointed. She realizes that she enjoys waiting—that, though it pains her, waiting’s “absence was a form of death.” To not wait, to have, is to expect nothing, to be dreamless, desireless, dead. This is one of the dilemmas of marriage: how can you stoke desire for the things you already have? Domesticated love borne out over the years can disappoint with its myriad banalities. The once-prized person fades into the scenery of your life just as a new piece of furniture becomes another object in your living room. The Teaswiths escape this by cycling between separation and reunion. (Pg. 73) With each refusal, he seemed lighter. We could go anywhere, be anything, and in that breathtaking moment before we chose any one path, we were following them all. (Pg. 87) I wanted to believe that people in other places had perfected the art of being satisfied, that my disconnection was a problem of geography—not of being human. (Pg. 89) On some level I had failed to understand what people were telling me: you will want those things. It wasn’t that someone was going to force me into a life I didn’t want; it was that what I wanted would change. And that was the scariest possibility of all. (Pg. 92) The decisions I made—this or that coffee, this or that movie, this or that dentist—were meaningless, yet my life was packed to the brim with these inconsequential microdecisions that all related to entertaining or taking care of myself. (Pg. 104) Wanting everything seems like an excellent way to set yourself up for disappointment. But what if you accept the yearning, what if the yearning is the only thing that can satisfy? Wilson had sought to describe this idea in No More Sea, settling on a hunger for perpetual motion between land and sea. Teju Cole wrote of fernweh, “The cure and the disease are one and the same.” Once you satisfy the need to be in the faraway place by going there, the place is no longer far away. It is like the horizon—a place you can never reach. What you need is a vessel—something to transport you, push you onward to the next island and the next and the next. (Pg. 107) Couples exist in their own little self-sufficient world, and people sense this and retreat. (Pg. 155) It suddenly seemed that all the things that were beautiful about being married—the finishing of each other’s sentences, the communicating without words, the feeling of being known—could be self-annihilating. (Pg. 168) The vanished woman is perfect because she is whoever we want her to be. She doesn’t grow old, or fat, or ugly; she doesn’t say things we don’t like. She is frozen, no longer her own, but ours. Would I have written about Barbara if she hadn’t disappeared? Probably not. It was the metamorphosis from woman to enigma that captivated me most. I was using her story for my own purposes. I was not so much telling her story as appropriating it. (Pg. 172) “All of us wish more than one life and the great art of it is in blending the many lives into one.” (Pg. 186) In death, we are loved in absentia, but in a way that doesn’t bind. We are liberated from others’ expectations. We exist in mind only. Whoever had written that scene, whether it was Barbara or Wilson, had entertained a death fantasy. Death is the only truly clean escape. It is the departure for which we cannot be blamed, the place from which we cannot be tempted to return. There is no ambivalence in death. We are finally released from the things that dog us. And perhaps most important, we are released from ourselves. (Pg. 228) Wanting, having plans, believing that you will live and possibly live well suddenly seemed such a vulnerable notion. We are guaranteed none of it. The barrier between fortune and ruin, life and death is unnervingly small. I was chilled by the scene: the piercing sound of the sirens, the police cars’ funereal procession, the hopelessly small poster. It conveyed both a sense of emergency—A girl has disappeared right from our midst! Did you notice?—and the sense that we could do nothing about it. Her story was already over. (Pg. 258)

  23. 5 out of 5

    Maryka Biaggio

    Laura Smith has written a captivating memoir, one that interweaves the story of her new marriage with that of child genius Barbara Follett, who mysteriously vanished at age 25 after the breakup of her marriage. In her retelling Smith reflects on the nature of commitment, the desire for independence, and the temptations of wanderlust. An effective and unusual memoir!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Annette

    This is a story of a young woman who searches for a former child prodigy who disappears in the late 1930's without a trace. Barbara Follett was a published writer by age 9 and went on numerous adventures on both land and sea. She was an Amelia Earhart type of modern woman who did not wish to be confined to a woman's role of wife and mother. Yet, she met a man she ended up marrying only to be shattered when he decided to leave their marriage. The author, investigating for her post-graduate work, This is a story of a young woman who searches for a former child prodigy who disappears in the late 1930's without a trace. Barbara Follett was a published writer by age 9 and went on numerous adventures on both land and sea. She was an Amelia Earhart type of modern woman who did not wish to be confined to a woman's role of wife and mother. Yet, she met a man she ended up marrying only to be shattered when he decided to leave their marriage. The author, investigating for her post-graduate work, sees correlation between Barbara's predicament and her own struggles with marriage and freedom. I found Barbara's story compelling,but was not enamoured with the author's deep self examination of her marriage and fidelity issues. I found her somewhat childish navel gazing quite tedious.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Ingraham

    While I lost the thread slightly in the middle of the book, overall this was an enjoyable and interesting read. I’ve never heard of Barbara Follett before, and her story and subsequent disappearance make for an interesting, true mystery. And the author’s hunt for more info makes for a pretty engaging second story. Some of the details from her personal didn’t quite resonate with me, but as someone who isn’t all that interested in conforming to the “standard” expectations of what adult life looks While I lost the thread slightly in the middle of the book, overall this was an enjoyable and interesting read. I’ve never heard of Barbara Follett before, and her story and subsequent disappearance make for an interesting, true mystery. And the author’s hunt for more info makes for a pretty engaging second story. Some of the details from her personal didn’t quite resonate with me, but as someone who isn’t all that interested in conforming to the “standard” expectations of what adult life looks like, it’s nice to read about the challenges and upsides of people who have the same feelings. Also, plotting and topics aside, the author really knows how to write some beautiful sentences.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Fran Fisher

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Interesting and well-written, and yet. . . For all the research and soul-searching, there are no conclusions or even very good theories that might lead to conclusions. The missing is not found, the unstable continues to wobble. Enjoyable to read, unsatisfying to finish. I would like to see the author try again.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Leah

    "How could one family, one life lived in one place ever satisfy?" A suspenseful book about two women's wanderlust, told over a century. A mystery is unfolding that drags the reader through the pages, both in the past--centered on Barbara Follett a child prodigy who vanishes from a marriage at 25--and in the present through Laura's memoirs about writing this book in her own marriage around the same age. It is a very quick read. Fundamentally, this is a book about desire to live more than one life. "How could one family, one life lived in one place ever satisfy?" A suspenseful book about two women's wanderlust, told over a century. A mystery is unfolding that drags the reader through the pages, both in the past--centered on Barbara Follett a child prodigy who vanishes from a marriage at 25--and in the present through Laura's memoirs about writing this book in her own marriage around the same age. It is a very quick read. Fundamentally, this is a book about desire to live more than one life. Who hasn't wondered about the roads not taken, the parallel lives unlived? Smith gives voice to these questions as she investigates Barbara's life and tries out other lives along the way. She finds, perhaps unsurprisingly, how challenging it is to live more than one life in practice. It is a very honest take on marriage, particularly about how it binds women to a more narrow set of options, even as their own preferences change over time. "At some point, love crosses over from being the buoy that lifts you up to the tide that drags you under." The parts about Barbara's family of origin are particularly fascinating tales the nuclear family's disfunction and its harmful consequences. "Wilson’s [her father's] love was complicated. In one of the early baby book entries, he refers to himself as Barbara’s “most unsparing critic.” She was one year old." I imagine that this book is not as well rated as it deserves to be because it is about women stretching the boundaries of their small, domestic lives. That makes many in our patriarchal society uncomfortable--not least other women. And even if some of the decisions the author makes have difficult consequences, I do not judge her, instead valuing her honest reportage. We tend to judge women more harshly for making self-oriented and experimental choices. I won't join in that trend. This is a very good book. -- "The coming years would prove that Wilson had missed the essential lesson of his own book: you cannot run away when the thing you are running from is yourself. The sea is inside you." "I realized that one of the things I had lost was a story: the simple story of marriage, with clean lines and a sensible narrative arc. I always imagined this told in the form of a toast at a golden anniversary." "I was still young, in that sweet spot where I looked forward to the parts of life that were ahead of me, but felt a little more confident about my place in the world." "We move toward one another and we move away. We draw near, we retreat. We start over again. Perhaps the chase has only just begun." On the fragility of life and fame: "Wanting, having plans, believing that you will live and possibly live well suddenly seemed such a vulnerable notion. We are guaranteed none of it. The barrier between fortune and ruin, life and death is unnervingly small. I was chilled by the scene: the piercing sound of the sirens, the police cars’ funereal procession, the hopelessly small poster. It conveyed both a sense of emergency—A girl has disappeared right from our midst! Did you notice?—and the sense that we could do nothing about it. Her story was already over."

  28. 4 out of 5

    calico Rosenberg

    There is an assortment of things that form some sort of backbone of myself and my perspective , things that , Although they seem quite obvious and intrinsic to me, are virtually absent from other people via the ways I encounter them .. I long ago gave up scouring , though occasionally my hopes are raised--perhaps by a book summary-but ALWAYS dashed. It's been a while now, but probably the husband element negated any such hopes for this book . I was feeling really crappy when I started reading. was There is an assortment of things that form some sort of backbone of myself and my perspective , things that , Although they seem quite obvious and intrinsic to me, are virtually absent from other people via the ways I encounter them .. I long ago gave up scouring , though occasionally my hopes are raised--perhaps by a book summary-but ALWAYS dashed. It's been a while now, but probably the husband element negated any such hopes for this book . I was feeling really crappy when I started reading. wasgroggy and intended simply to read until I passed back out. To my astonishment , about 50 pages in (if memory serves) I realized that I was in fact overcome with a sudden all encapsulating desire to write, inspired in a way I haven't been in years and years. Even the barbara story line, which at first I assumed to be something the publisher required to provide a storyline /focus and wanted away with because I was more interested in the author, eventually garnered my interest. So at that point I put the book down so that I could attempt to write ( and then spent the rest of the day looking for a keyboard, by which time the feeling had mostly passed; so I stowed the bookuntil such a time as I had everything and was prepared to write. I picked it up again at least a month and probably several later, but to my disappointment the remainder, ( which ultimafelywen into her open relationship and Barbara's marriag)e, failed to garner the same feeling. I'm not tsure this deprivation would have occurred, or t least been so stark had I read it all together, and it was still fine reading, relative to other stuff. Lookong here, It astounds me that people not only don't get it but in fact criticized her for so many of the sentiments that seem distinctly obvious to me. because of past experience I've made a point of not looking at Goodeviews before finishing a book And I'm glad I didn't; while I was reading ( at least the first part) I thought the book was incredible and couldn't imagine that anyone would feel otherwise. seeing what people have written here reinforces an apparent disparity

  29. 4 out of 5

    Devon H

    Smith writes an intricately woven story of her own life and marriage juxtaposed with that of her research subject Barbara Newhall Follet. Although listed as a memoir, Smith combines Follet's biography in with her own. In large part, that has to do with Smith's obsession over Barbara, and how involved her own life became in that of Barbara's.  The set up for this memoir unfolded a bit strangely, as it read as very heavy on the Follet biography side at the beginning, gradually shifting towards bein Smith writes an intricately woven story of her own life and marriage juxtaposed with that of her research subject Barbara Newhall Follet. Although listed as a memoir, Smith combines Follet's biography in with her own. In large part, that has to do with Smith's obsession over Barbara, and how involved her own life became in that of Barbara's.  The set up for this memoir unfolded a bit strangely, as it read as very heavy on the Follet biography side at the beginning, gradually shifting towards being more so about Smith's own life by the end. I liked how she compared herself to Follet throughout the story, and found it fascinating when those around her compared and contrasted Smith's romantic life with Follet's as well.  However, I wasn't keen on learning as much as I did about Barbara Follet. I can see that Smith was at times obsessed and generally fascinated with this missing person's story, constantly hunting for answers. It almost feels as though Follet was such a large part of Smith's life that of course she couldn't be left out, but did I need to know as much as I learned? Follet certainly lived an interesting life, but I wasn't invested in her as a reader, unfortunately.  Smith's writing is eloquent, and the story flowed like the tide of a wave, pulling back and forth, one way and then another. This dramatic push and pull felt like a careful dance, and one that I think Smith ultimately succeeded in sharing effectively. 

  30. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    I loved the style and content of this book and especially the structure: alternating chapters of Barbara and the author's very personal experiences. After a long discussion of Barbara, Chapter Seven begins: "We flew to Phuket..." Wait! What? Phuket has an airport!!? I was hooked by this switch since when I was in Phuket many years ago and stayed out at Bateau Ferrengi ("Beach/Boat of the Strangers") and everything was 60 cents: a meal, a bed even a pipe of opium and there certainly wasn't an airp I loved the style and content of this book and especially the structure: alternating chapters of Barbara and the author's very personal experiences. After a long discussion of Barbara, Chapter Seven begins: "We flew to Phuket..." Wait! What? Phuket has an airport!!? I was hooked by this switch since when I was in Phuket many years ago and stayed out at Bateau Ferrengi ("Beach/Boat of the Strangers") and everything was 60 cents: a meal, a bed even a pipe of opium and there certainly wasn't an airport between Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. My speculations on what happened to Barbara after she disappeared: 1. her husband killed her and disposed of the remains. 2. Suicide. 3. Accident/fatal injury. Initially, it was open and shut since her husband had motive but then I changed my mind to suicide (Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf and other women writers committed suicide). But, it could have been any of these causes of death. I read the book in two sittings and at certain points I felt I was far getting too much information about both Barbara and about the author's personal life. Nevertheless, I read every line (which is unusual for me - I read at least five hours a day). I'm surprised I never heard of this precocious child/author who looked at life as a time for adventure and novelty. I also see Laura Smith, the author, as having a similar world-view and she was just the right woman to write this remarkable book.

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