The Late Interiors: A Life Under Construction
How might a woman harvest meaning from the rich and devastating complexities of her life? In The Late Interiors, Marjorie Sandor explores this question. Through a memoir that includes poetic ruminations, a progressive garden journal, and a variety of essays, she offers glimpses, pieces, fragments of a life lived over five seasons.
The reader experiences Ms. Sandor’s attempt to move the jigsaw pieces of her life into some coherent unity, but they resist being ordered or managed in such a way. Instead, they tumble in on each other, like the shards within a kaleidoscope, forever changing, creating new patterns, refusing to stick together.
In a time before this memoir is begun, Ms. Sandor had begun a love affair that ended her marriage and divided her family, subjecting her young daughter to life as a shared-custody child. It is the thickness of this recent past, and the guilt she never fully acknowledges, which oozes through the deepest caverns of Ms. Sandor’s writing, which is filled with meditations about loss, cruelty, and illness.
“There it was again: this battle between the urge to hold time still by making art and the instant violence and chaos of the world rushing in to crush the illusion. The “bomb” of chaos is out in the world but also inside our hearts. The snow globe held so carefully in the hands can shatter in an instant. The whole delicate architecture splintered and gone. Ribs and lungs and spine, windows, voice.”
These thoughts are blended with descriptions of her growing obsession with gardening.
The garden, of course, is a place of new growth, but also a place of destruction. It’s a very physical experience of life: breaking and digging up the earth, overturning the illusion of “solid” ground, and then, placing ever so carefully in that wounded soil the seed of new life. Of course it is a metaphor for her own recent life experiences.
It’s in the discovery of a new home on the edge of the campus where she and her lover teach that this gardening obsession begins to take root, there in a space which offers her oft-used word, “sanctuary,” and a connection to the one institution that remains intact in her life: the university.
But there are snakes in Ms. Sandor’s metaphorical garden, in the form of unexpected shocks. Her lover has life-threatening heart surgery and comes perilously close to death—is, in fact, clinically dead for a time.
As he slowly recovers his health and strength, they learn of a betrayal by the sellers of their new home, a devastating plan for a project of a student highrise at the edge of their property. It threatens the destruction of many of the oldest trees in the area, and a ruination of the fabric of their tiny community. There is an accretion of awareness—a sense of ever-present death, of trust betrayed, damaging secrets flowing in the shadows, frightening powers that move to draw you in, to destroy the fragile happiness that is always so hard to sustain.
The shadow of death is everywhere in this book. The death of “Junior”—the homeless man who, in death, was claimed and mourned by many people who probably gave him little thought when he was alive. The death of Ann Cline, the wheelchair-bound, yet emotionally boundless, professor of architecture, with whom Sandor experiences a brief but strong bond of kinship. A best friend who is battling brain tumors, always in the “non-eloquent” parts of her brain. The memory of the death of her father, and a gently sad awareness of her mother’s advancing age.
There is also the light of life shining through those shadows. The light of newfound love, of the bonds formed between teacher and student, of deep and abiding friendship, of watching a child develop her own special magic and discover herself. There is the light of unexpected justice—the triumph of right over power—that saves their neighborhood and serves as a kind of adhesive to the pieces of this memoir.
And, then, of course, there is the light that shines through the artistry of someone like Ms. Sandor, with her gorgeous prose and lush phrases, turning the simplest moment into a transcendent experience. The Late Interiors is a haunting book. It should be savored and experienced. It will move into your own interiors and stay with you as you travel through your own shadows and light. Ms. Sandor’s language offers a fecundity of its own, a garden of words that the reader enters—and is reluctant to leave.