Friday, September 25, 2009

Susan Wittig Albert's 'Together, Alone' is an amazing book

Boerne Star, Tuesday, September 29, 2009
I have enjoyed Susan Wittig Albert’s China Bayles mysteries for many years. I relish Albert’s quirky plots, savor her droll sense of humor, and laugh out loud at her eccentric characters. For me, tucked within these page-turners is an enormous amount of insight into the human psyche, an element often lacking in series fiction. I was delighted, therefore, when Wittig Albert’s memoir, Together, Alone: A Memoir of Marriage and Place, was recently released. It did not take many pages of reading to become totally absorbed in her personal narrative. Together, Alone embodies a rare power and intensity, a raw honesty, if you will, that elevates the ordinary and mundane of everyday life to a noble position of human existence within the context of time and place.

Growing up on a farm in Illinois made an indelible mark on Wittig Albert’s psyche. Her greatest desire was to live as her grandparents had.

“My dream, when I was a girl, was to live as my grandparents lived: in a small white house on a low green hill, with woods and fields and streams holding me in a sweet, enduring embrace through summer sun and winter blizzards, easy times and hard.”

That idealized life, however, was not to be, at least for a while. Immediately after high school graduation Wittig Albert got married and gave birth to three children in rapid succession. A full-time mother and wife, she carved out enough time to enroll in the University of Illinois where she earned her bachelor’s degree. She then accepted a fellowship at the University of California at Berkeley where she was awarded her Ph.D. in English. Divorced with three children, life was a whirlwind when she was offered a teaching post at the University of Texas at Austin and a few years later a full-time administrative position at Newcomb College in New Orleans, followed by another administrative job at Texas State University in San Marcos.

“Before long,” Wittig Albert writes, “my dreams and daytime imaginings were full of remembered landscapes, and I began to think of having a small place in the country with chickens, a garden, fruit trees. I could drive back and forth to the university—many people did, and it satisfied them. But that wasn’t what I wanted. I couldn’t really live in the country, in a full, whole-hearted way, if I had to divide my day between home and work. In order to have the kind of life I wanted, I had to leave the life I had. And on that day I walked out of the university, I felt astonishingly, astoundingly free—as free as those wild birds—and I could sing my own glorious hurrah. It was only a step, but it was the first, and it was necessary.”

Shortly after leaving academia Wittig Albert met Bill Albert, a software engineer who was also at a crossroads in his life and ready to move on. Albert owned five acres of Texas Hill Country land and the two married and moved to his secluded place which they named Meadow Knoll. They set up housekeeping in Wittig Albert’s eccentric old RV, Amazing Grace, with an uncertain future before them.

For Wittig Albert, achieving a balance between marriage and her need for solitude was critical for her success both as a writer and a human being.

Together, Alone is an amazing personal narrative. Through Wittig Albert’s self-examination and metamorphosis she empowers women of all ages and stations to similarly discover their own place in their own time.

Over the years, Wittig Albert has proven to be a prolific writer. With 20 China Bayles mysteries, 12 novels written collaboratively with her husband under the name of Robin Paige, six Beatrix Potter mysteries, and numerous non-fiction projects she is a compelling literary presence in the Texas Hill Country.
Book Details:
Together, Alone: A Memoir of Marriage and Place
, University of Texas Press (2009), $24.95, ISBN 978-0-292-71970-5

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