With her new collection, “Someday This Will Fit: Linked Essays, Meditations & Other Midlife Follies,” book critic Joan Silverman demonstrates that she is equally adept at crafting the personal essay as at reviewing the latest fiction and nonfiction for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram and other publications.

Cover courtesy of Bauhan Publishing

In less skilled hands, an essay can be an invitation for an author to get lost in introspection and self-absorption, a temptation Silverman studiously avoids. She writes, “If there was an ongoing theme to my columns, it was the stuff of daily life. I quickly discovered that first-person writing needn’t be a forum for navel-gazing; it’s a point of view, not a mirror.”

Silverman opens the collection with a report on the tribulations attendant on residing in a century-old house: “Old houses have stories to tell, and they are rarely short.” But she quickly captures the frustrations of dealing with plumbers, electricians and other repair professionals. It’s not a highly original concept, but it doesn’t need to be. There’s enough specific detail to provide that flash of recognition in the reader that authors hope for.

In 16 chapters, Silverman, a resident of both coastal Maine and the Boston area, addresses topics of universal interest: Food, Health, Shopping, Family and Friends, etc. The individual essays were culled from hundreds written over two decades for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor, the Atlanta Journal and the Dallas Morning News. She writes about small dilemmas and big concerns. Topics include unsatisfying chocolate-covered strawberries, the difficulty in obtaining a third of a pound of cheese, and being undercharged for a coveted rug.

Silverman’s style is inviting and unobtrusive, flowing from paragraph to paragraph with grace and ease. She can conjure up a telling phrase, but she never strains for the big laugh or the “Hey, you ever notice…?” set-up.

She finds pleasure in simple things, such as Dove Bars, gardening and BLTs. But Silverman is careful not to oversell her personal tastes, even as she appeals to her readers’ senses, as when she writes: “Between my neighbor’s house and mine, the bacon mingled briefly with the tang of autumn leaves. Mind you, either smell, left to its own devices, would have caught my attention. Their accidental pairing was irresistible.”

Sympathetic to life’s many difficulties, she resists the maudlin in presenting them. Her selections about her mother’s death are especially poignant, addressing the topic head-on but with a tender touch.

Silverman writes, “Did she know absolutely that I loved her? It was perfectly clear that nothing else mattered. It was the one true thing, the only thing worth saying, or repeating, or demonstrating or finding a way to make understood. The rest was details.”

In a piece about a friend’s suicide, she writes, “Looking into the endless void may well be the preface to all invention. We invent answers, theories, even reasons for life and death. It is necessity mothering itself.”

“Someday This Will Fit” is probably better enjoyed in short bursts. There’s a larger story being told in the totality of the selections, but there’s no hurry needed to reach the end of the book. Dip into it according to your mood, and you will find something soothing, nostalgic or barbed.

One wishes, however, that the individual selections within each chapter had been titled. Perhaps Silverman bowed to the authority of her various copy editors, but it is a good bet that she could have done a fine job of bestowing a pithy phrase to the beginning of each selection. Readers wishing to invite others to sample a particular essay would be able to find it more easily.

The book promises “mid-life follies,” and Silverman delivers. She doesn’t make an issue of her age, but her essays are intended for an audience with some history behind it. Silverman examines her various friendships and finds some of them wanting. She writes, “But a long, strained silence between friends has its own architecture. It forms a foundation, then walls, then structural supports that are self-sufficient. Over time, the silence becomes a fortress through which there is no entry.”

Silverman saves the title essay, about shopping, aging and letting go, for the end. She writes, “’Someday this will fit’ isn’t a lie, exactly. It’s more complicated than that. Factor in a sense of realism and a sense of humor, and with luck one learns the difference between what’s fitting and what fits.”

Silverman herself is possessed by both realism and a sense of humor. She’s able to find the universal in the particular, and “Someday This Will Fit” is a particularly fitting introduction to this versatile author’s literary universe.

Berkeley writer Michael Berry is a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, native who has contributed to Salon, the San Francisco Chronicle, New Hampshire Magazine, the Los Angeles Review of Books and many other publications. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: mlberry


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