In Splinters: Another Kind of Love Story, Leslie Jamison writes that the story at hand is about “the great emptiness inside, the space I’d tried to fill with booze and sex and love and recovery and now, perhaps, with motherhood.” She doesn’t mean a gauzy, filtered kind of motherhood, but rather her fierce love for her daughter and the aftermath of a painful divorce.
“I always write from spaces of when and how I find myself challenged and rearranged. There was a tremendous force pushing me to try and put motherhood into language, because I always try to put into language experiences that overwhelm me and baffle me, and motherhood certainly did both,” Jamison recently said over Zoom.
Splinters consists of a series of essays, which Jamison describes as “short, sharp pieces,” structured to evoke “experiences that lodge inside of you and become part of you, but often in a quite painful or broken way.” Across pages, Jaimson demonstrates what readers of her earlier titles, The Empathy Exams and The Recovering, know to be true—she excels at drilling into raw experiences and uncomfortable truths until they reveal something transcendent about our existence as flawed humans in a chaotic world.
Writing about motherhood, something she describes as “an experience that really transforms every crevice and aspect of being,” led Jamison to become more resolute in her approach to her work. “I had to double down on a belief that is already at the core of my aesthetic practice, which is that an experience doesn’t have to be extraordinary in order to be illuminating, and that writing from my own life or anybody writing from their own life isn’t predicated on the belief that their life is more special or interesting than anyone else’s. You just have to believe, okay, this is what I’ve lived and I believe I have something to say about it. And I’m going to try and figure out what that something is,” she said.
In advance of Splinters’ release, Jamison spoke with Vanity Fair about experiencing grief and love simultaneously, and writing about the moments in which we find ourselves “challenged and rearranged.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Vanity Fair: What was the genesis for Splinters? When did you realize that these experiences of divorce and parenting would be at the center of your next book?
Leslie Jamison: This book really began with a particular moment in my life, which was moving into this dark railroad sublet right next to a firehouse with my daughter after the end of my divorce. It was such a tender, exhilarating, terrifying, grief-stricken time. It was all those things at once. I wanted to write into those bare nerve ending days and nights, and that simultaneity of feeling such grief and such love at the same time. That was really where the book began, writing grief and love all twined together: grief at my marriage and love for my daughter and trying to make sense of how those feelings coexisted. That was the motivating urgency at the start.
In Splinters, you’re looking at all the various selves, or parts of yourself, that existed before you became a wife and mother. There’s a moment where you meet up with an old friend, and you describe that bond, that friendship, as allowing all your previous selves to coexist, rather than having to pretend you’re someone you’re not. It describes those lifelong, deep friendships so well.
I love that you connected that idea of splinters and the maybe painful continuities of selfhood, the memories or parts of yourself that you can’t ever fully let go of or fully purge. There’s a flipside, which is the consolidating aspects of carrying your prior selves with you and being in relationships where all of those prior selves can be present. I think there’s a way in which the book is exploring those dynamics or intimate relationships in which you feel like all of you can be present. And then, what are those other kinds of dynamics where you have to curate yourself? I think that’s one of the roles that some of the men in the book are playing too, and it’s less to vilify them and more to say there’s something in the way I’ve related to men that has involved a lot of self-curation, and that when you can let go of that self-curation it feels like exhaling. It feels like being in the room.