My Life With an Enigma by Linda Paul
Some lives are too complex to be completely done in by Death. Yes, the deceased may have moved on to another plane, but the questions they leave behind are too intriguing, even haunting, for the survivors to simply let them go unexamined. Such is the case with Linda Paul and her memoir about life with her mother Yramiris Paul Tracy. In My Life with an Enigma, Paul approaches the mystery of her mother in the same way one might approach a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle – slowly, methodically, with a big breath and rolled up sleeves. For it’s going to be a rather arduous challenge, but one well worth the end result.
Paul’s strategy is to essentially reimagine her mother’s life up to the point where her own entrance into the world interconnects. From there, the story becomes more fully what one might expect from a memoir – a recollection of the author’s own life. But in Paul’s case, that life is inextricably tangled with the single mother who raised her and her sister in the wind-swept world of Wyoming. There is no escaping the shadow and light cast by Yramiris. The task is made all the more daunting since Yri - one of her many nicknames - becomes even more perplexing in death than she was in life. It’s as if she’s her own character in a novel with which she is forever unsatisfied, and so rewriting. Yri is an eternal romantic - capricious and passionate and unwieldy as a subject. To Paul’s credit, she does a masterful job of capturing this free spirit while still allowing her liberty enough to be the wild thing that she was. In the first half of the book, Paul pieces together her mother’s early life in wartime England, Germany, the Swiss Alps, and, ultimately, New York. It’s quite a journey, and the author rather adroitly weaves her own journey of research into the story, staying in the background until the book’s second half which takes place largely in Wyoming. What a lot of worlds to bring together, each of them contributing to the many facets and personalities of this enigmatic woman!
Linda Paul very obviously loved and admired her mother, but her portrayal is not merely a sentimental tribute full of smiles and sunshine. Likewise, neither is this one of those therapeutic tomes in which a daughter airs her grievances against a difficult parent. No, Paul is too mature as a writer to fall into those traps. Instead, she presents her mother and her own life with all its troubles and triumphs. There are many disappointments along the way, but many high points as well. In the end, My Life with an Enigma is a well-crafted and thoughtful memoir of a pair of women who are both strong and intriguing.
Well worth reading!