I've just finished reading The Florist's Daughter by Patricia Hampl. It's a memoir about growing up in St. Paul, in her family. I read a review somewhere that suggested this book is really a love story about St. Paul--which I agree with and I envy her in the deep sense of place she grew up with--but the primary descriptive and narrative focus is on being a daughter.
Here's a great line, although maybe you have to be a midwesterner to appreciate it:
"Nothing is harder to grasp than a relentlessly modest life."
I enjoy Hampl's writing for many reasons, but here are two. Her writing is elegant, always. And her writing is earnest. I suppose "earnest" is one of the least coveted adjectives for a literary writer, but I use this term in the best possible way. I mean to say that underneath her elegant language, there is something solid, something worthy of being wrapped in beauty. It seems to promise that it will be worth the reader's time, that in the end the beauty will not have been just smoke and mirrors. I was trying to think of how to say this when I remembered a passage in this book that I marked. She is writing here about her father, a florist, who was often frustrated with the shallow idea of beauty held by some of his customers.
"He wanted a certain kind of formal, purchased beauty to exist, and especially for this elegance to mean something--something good, something hopeful. It was important to him that all this be there...This surface loveliness was the outward and visible sign, as the nuns taught us about the sacraments, of an inward and spiritual grace..."
From that passage and more, she is truly her father's daughter. But from other passages, she is truly her mother's daughter. If she had written a bulleted how-to book on being a daughter, on being an adult yet a child, on being cared for by and giving care to parents, I don't think it would have opened as many streams of thought as she did in these 227 pages.