Whirlwind memoir

Anne Barnhill of Garner, N.C., who’s hard at work on a novel to be published by St. Martin’s, has also written a short-story collection and a moving memoir, At Home in the Land of Oz, which tells her story of growing up with an autistic sister. Here, Anne takes a look at a new memoir out from Press53, a small, independent publisher in Winston-Salem, N.C.

By Anne Clinard Barnhill

AN UNREASONABLE WOMAN. By Shirley Deane. Press53. 363 pages. Paperback, $19.95

An Unreasonable Woman, a memoir by Winston-Salem resident Shirley Deane, tells the story of a woman with a restless spirit who travels the world to find herself and her purpose.  Along the way, Deane plays accordion professionally, learns to fly a Piper Cub, becomes the first woman to drive a Land Rover from England to Kathmandu, threatens the status quo in apartheid South Africa and receives death threats as a result, marries, divorces, studies psychology and philosophy and medicine, becomes a fundraiser in India, manages a clinic in Tibet – whew, the list goes on and on – just thinking about Deane’s life is exhausting.

When you consider that Deane sets out on her quest before the women’s movement is a light in Betty Friedan’s eye, her story becomes even more amazing.  There are many adventures recounted in this memoir, and Deane doesn’t flinch from honest disclosure.

A favorite, lighter segment of her tale involves one of her love affairs.  Recently divorced, Deane decides to take judo lessons and falls for Nick, the owner/instructor.  He tells her he can’t see her at night because he must care for his sick mother – for the oldest Greek son, this is the custom.  Their affair progresses, and he proposes.  She accepts. Then she discovers that Nick is married with a child, and is engaged to yet another woman.  Deane gets the wronged women together, and they confront Nick, who must have had amazing stamina as he visited each woman each day.  In the scene that ensues, Deane tells him good-bye.  But the best part of the story is when she returns home to New York City and tells her parents (she is an only child) about the incident:

Back in New York, at dinner in my parents’ apartment, Mom served pot roast and Dad poured red wine. “So that’s it,” I summed up.  “Nick and I would eat supper, make love, he’d go to Hector’s (his night club), come back to Pam’s apartment, sleep with her, drive her to work in the morning, then make love to his wife.”

“Oh my!” Mom repeated, pressing her cigarette stub hard into the ashtray.

Dad beamed.  “My God!” he said.  “The man is a genius!”

Deane’s story is told in three parts, and the chapters alternate time and place.  This constant shifting creates a sense of disorientation, much like Deane must have felt as she traveled from one place to the next.  Perhaps longer chapters might have helped stave off the reader’s jet lag.

All in all, this is the story of a strong woman who is not content to let others dictate her place or her purpose; instead, she creates her own path with courage and determination.  As she puts it in one of her original songs:

Why should we change to suit our milieu?

Let’s change our milieu to suit me and you.

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