Rebecca Woolf creates a complex yet vulnerable tale in All of This: A Memoir of Death and Desire. How do these two topics intertwine, you ask? And Woolf answers this question in spades. Her marriage was far from perfect, but they stayed together. Then doctors diagnose her husband with stage four terminal cancer. What follows is as much about the death as how Woolf reconciles her conflicting emotions.
The diagnosis happens just as Woolf considers whether to leave this man—the father of her four children. Instead, she stays and cares for him, putting his intense needs ahead of hers. She attends to the kids physically and emotionally but lets her basic needs slide.
Once her husband dies, Woolf’s pendulum swings to a more balanced place. She and the kids find unique ways to cope. They sing and dance when it helps let their emotions flow. And Woolf figures out how to be a single mom in the world of Tinder. Dates—many of them—become her coping mechanism. She gets back in touch with her womanhood and desire for intimacy and connection, even if just for brief relationships.
Woolf is comfortable oversharing. But it’s endearing and illustrates the genuine complexity of unexpected death after a less-than-ideal relationship. She offers a precious and tender mothering style that’s never saccharin. All of This is a modern take on being a young widow with young kids.
When I started reading, Woolf immediately drew me into her world. I felt the chill of the hospital ward. The vital support of her besties. And each of her acute feelings about events she had little control over. However, this book isn’t a tearjerker. Ultimately, it’s about empowerment and Woolf’s journey to regain her sense of self.
Based on Woolf’s telling, I neither mourned her husband’s death nor the end of their marriage. Instead, I felt hurt for how he forced her into his vision of a wife and caregiver. The book is clearly her way of cleansing the demons of imbalanced marital power. This isn’t the typical way an abusive relationship ends, which makes this memoir compelling.
I recommend this if you love woman-centered memoirs that dive deep into emotions and aren’t afraid to test boundaries of “correctness.”
Pair with Rachel Krantz’s Open: An Uncensored Memoir of Love, Liberation, and Non-Monogamy for the shared frank discussion of open relationships. Or try another memoir about the journey of widowhood, like Elizabeth Alexander’s The Light of the World.
Thanks to NetGalley, Harper One, and the author for a digital advanced reader’s copy in exchange for this honest review. The expected publication date for this book is August 16, 2022.