Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist is a cool book. Even the cover-- baby blue with a beautiful chocolate brown photo of some delectable morsel. The writing is good. Very good. There are nuggets to be found in what Niequist has to say: thoughts on change, grace, and learning the hard way. And it is a touching reflection, written by a hipster, of how to weather the hard knocks of adulthood. But I feel conflicted by this book.I'm conflicted because I do like the writing and was drawn into Shauna's world of friends and food and laughter and the disappointments of life. Shauna's not only a gifted writer but a foodie with a gift of hospitality and her accounts of dinner parties and meeting friends or family in Paris, or Florida or Fiji were mesmerizing. She sounds like someone who would be a friend and one can imagine themselves flying along with her to exotic locations, eating frittata's or thin crust homemade basil pizza and drinking red robust wine or tequilas poolside.
And honestly, I had no expectations of this book when I first received it. I'd never heard of it before and was given a review copy.
So, you ask, what is the conflict. It's apparent early on that Shauna is a person of faith, the publishing company is, after all, Zondervan, and many essays contain reflections on struggles to come to terms with a professional crisis of sorts, as she and her husband leave the church they've worked at for several years, as well as secondary infertility. Shauna writes with eloquence and self reflection. Shauna has good things to say. Shauan is talented.
But the thing that bothered me about this book was the underlying secularism. The author has lived a charmed life, and during one of the darkest periods of her life she is jet-setting around the world, staying at lake side cottages, eating gourmet and organic food and drinking all manner of concoctions. I was a bit surprised that she even admitted to college parties hosted where the main offering was trash-can punch. This from Bill Hybels daughter. O.k. so I'm a fundie at heart. Certainly people can drink, but I was left wondering, well, really about her maturity level; like, at what point do you own your faith and live that out? Cause there just seems to be a bit of living in the world, but I'm elite so it's alright going on. Her chapter on Girls Gone Wild relects that. "I want businesses and government systems and certainly churches to be led more and more often by women. I believe that men and women would both benefit from it in dozens of ways. But if that’s going to happen, I think we have to declare a princess-free zone. No tiaras, no Girls Gone Wild, no pretending we can’t carry things." I agree with the starting point but the conclusion goes way beyond... This from the woman grieving her lack of fertility. Assumptions that the roles and rules are what you expect them to be; redefining the normal cause it suits, until it doesn't.
And like I said, I had no prior expectations, but as I was telling my husband about this book I found myself having a difficult time explaining just what the heart of it was- was it faith and trust in God. Was it faith and trust in self? Time heals? Life disappoints? Shauna can write?
I think it comes down to her chapter near the end, "Your story must be told." She writes, "When Christ walked among the us, he entrusted the gospel to plain old regular people...if you have been transformed by the grace of God, then you have all you need to write your manifesto, your poem, your song, your battle cry, your love letter to a beautiful and broken world."
And Shauna did that in this book and most likely her first as well, Cold Tangerines. But it's a bit too post-modern for me. One just tells their story and what exactly happens after that? I mean, I'd like to know for sure just what it was that Christ did for her that her parents or her charmed life didn't provide, but honestly I'm not clear. In fact, I don't see it at all. From where I sit this book is a collection of very well written, at times funny, at times touching essays, snapshots taken from Shauna's charmed and charming life.