The Merry Recluse: A Life in Essays

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The Merry Recluse Book CoverBy the time I was introduced to Caroline Knapp's work in 2005, she had already been dead for several years. When I learned this, after reading and being astonished by her book, Pack of Two, I was heartbroken. I went on to read her other books, Drinking: A Love Story and Appetites: Why Women Want and found myself very sad that I couldn't read the newspaper column she refers to writing or any of her magazine articles.

The Merry Recluse fixes that problem, at least to some extent. Published several years after Knapp's death, the book is a collection of some of her most notable essays from her time at the Boston Phoenix and her magazine writing. For the most part, the subject matter is the same as that found in her books--her alcoholism, her anorexia, her relationship with her family, her relationship with her dog. One thing the essays get at that the books didn't as much, though, is Knapp's decision to live alone and to be what she terms a "merry recluse"--a person who is content and even happy with her solitude.

One of the reasons I was more impressed with Pack of Two than with Knapp's other books was that I had previously read intelligent discussions of alcoholism and anorexia, but I'd never read anything that took relationships with dogs so seriously or talked about them in such an intelligent way as Knapp does in Pack of Two. While reading the essays in The Merry Recluse that dealt with Knapp's living alone and being "reclusive," I felt the same way. The human need to be alone, and the desire of some of us to be alone much or most of the time, isn't something I've seen much discussion of anywhere, and Knapp discusses it with both humor and gravitas.

For someone who has not read Knapp's other books, reading some of the essays in The Merry Recluse is definitely a quick way to tell you if you'd enjoy her longer stuff or not, and which of her books you should start with. For me, most of it was not new, but it was still great to "hear" her voice again. Caroline, you are missed.

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