October 15, 2022
University of Georgia Press
Paperback, 192 pages
“I love deeply while worried.”
It Takes a Worried Woman by Debra Monroe is a series of autobiographical essays presented as a stream of consciousness, allowing the narrator to drop bits of sentiment and memory into a whirlpool and then coax them to coalesce into a story, into a lifetime pieced together by choices, experiences, and worry.
While a few thoughts in these essays occasionally bounce back and forth across time, the overall storytelling is linear and certainly provocative. The author lays her life bare across the pages, allowing the reader to sit with her on that virtual front porch and listen to streams of narration about relationships, sexual harassment/assault, family, aging, death, violence, racism, and worries in general but often about being a White woman raising her Black daughter in an increasingly volatile political landscape. No topic is off limits, providing a raw salvo of events and emotions that will stimulate thought and encourage further discussion.
On the surface, It Takes a Worried Woman is one woman’s stark revelations and confessions that may or may not be relatable for every reader. However, they are still valid and important because they encapsulate a decades-long life of evolving relationships, internal growth, and the many technological advances and fluctuating ideologies over the years. This memoir in essay form can be difficult to absorb for some because a few topics may be disturbing or uncomfortable, such as date/acquaintance rape and domestic violence, and may even be incendiary, depending on the reader’s political views, such as the ubiquitous hate speech, actions, and movements following the 2016 presidential election.
On a literary level, Debra Monroe’s unapologetic collection of essays is a personal deconstruction of the human condition and a panorama of emotions defined by both her mundane and extraordinary moments and memories. Stream of consciousness as a literary technique can be challenging to read and to write; however, Monroe’s ability to unfurl her introspection and scrutiny in the presence of an unknown audience is remarkable and fairly easy to process. It is reminiscent of English novelist and essayist Virginia Woolf and her extraordinary works that employ such a stream of consciousness approach, including Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and To the Lighthouse (1927).
Debra Monroe is an acclaimed novelist, essayist, and professor of English who has lived and taught across the United States and currently resides in Austin, Texas. Monroe has witnessed firsthand many societal, cultural, and corporeal upheavals and the tectonic political shifts that have personally affected her family, including her daughter as a young Black college student and racial target in November 2016 and beyond. Monroe’s approach to life’s quandaries and worries and her ineffable need for the pastoral, including during the pandemic and the crippling freeze in Texas in early 2021, is intricate and affirming. Jettisoning one’s thoughts, memories, and soul into the literary ether for anyone to interpret and critique takes gumption and self-awareness, and Debra Monroe invites readers into her chaotic, vulnerable space and inspires them to examine and appreciate their own life’s odyssey.