|| Print ||
|Written by Alexandra Lawless|
|Wednesday, 06 July 2011 00:00|
In general, I try not to pay attention to celebrity news or to read biographies of people I really like; I find that it can sometimes take away from the magic of the music or movies that I love. Nevertheless, I picked up Shania Twain's autobiography, From This Moment On, partly because I've been waiting forever for her new album and partly because I know that she's always been intensely private about her personal life. I wondered why she had decided to bare all her secrets in a book.
I was sucked into the book almost the entire way through. Though I knew a little bit about her life -- parents killed early, messy divorce -- I was otherwise unprepared for the depth of sorrow that she's experienced. In the first half, she talks about her childhood. She grew up in serious poverty in Northern Ontario, with five siblings, a mother who suffered from depression, and a stepfather who was prone to violence, and, it appears, sexual abuse. Some of the stories that she relates had me gasping, and some almost brought me to tears, which is rare. Throughout these chapters, I kept thinking, "At least life gets better for her. At least she'll be happy later."
This isn't exactly the case. Even though she is finally removed from her precarious early life when she lands a record deal, Twain talks about the absolute frustration and exhaustion that comes not only from the hardcore promotion of an album, but also from the challenges of quick-rising fame. There are a few moments when the reader might sarcastically think, "Boo hoo, poor rock star" (a sentiment that Twain acknowledges several times), but, while reading, I genuinely felt sorry for her. Having grown up dealing with so much, she understandably had a difficult time asking for help, or admitting that she needed a break.
One of the things that touched me the most was Twain's obvious connection with animals. A vegetarian for over twenty years, she mentions a moose that she unsuccessfully attempted to shoot when she was nineteen and working with her family tree-planting up north, and the subsequent realization that it shouldn't have to die just for her to have bragging rights. She also talks lovingly about the various dogs that had been by her side as she started a career on her own, and later for protection. The most heartbreaking part of the book for me wasn't the break-up of her marriage, but when her horse Dancer had to be put down during a tour. When, distressed, I relayed this part of the story to my boyfriend, he snorted and said, "I have a hard time feeling sorry for someone whose 'favourite' horse has died." But it was this quote that really brought home for me how terribly lonely Shania must have felt during those years:
"I learned everything I needed to know about being an international artist on tour at this point, and I learned more about being lonely, tired, isolated, and creatively uninspired than anything. I didn't do any songwriting, and as my closest friend was my horse, it speaks volumes of where my personal life was at. And now even he was gone" (p. 323).
Another thing that I found really interesting was the fact that she didn't have much interest in being marketed as a country artist. Though heavily influenced by country growing up, she felt that she had more cross-over appeal, something that, fortunately, others eventually agreed with. She discusses how she and her producer/husband Mutt Lange, were more interested in making the best album possible than in making a country-specific album. Having just finished researching Patsy Cline, I found it amusing that the two women were complete opposites from that perspective. Cline resisted efforts to turn herself into a cross-over artist, although that is arguably where her best music came from.
Twain's tone changes drastically in the last third of the book, when she starts talking about the disintegration of her marriage. While incredibly quick to defend her neglectful and abusive parents, near the end of her story, she displays clear bitterness toward the woman who was complicit in her husband's betrayal. And strangely, to me at least, she placed little of the blame on him. Now, it could be that she felt it was inappropriate to slam him publicly, or there may have been some other factor that prevented her from talking about it. I also recognize that there is a tendency to blame the "other woman," even when it takes two to tango. It still didn't sit right with me.
I did think it was gutsy of Twain to include some of the letters she sent after the separation: letters of pleading and apology that couldn't have been easy to share, as they display an incredible vulnerability that she was demonstrably not comfortable with sharing.
As for the other woman -- she doesn't spare any shots for her. She mentions many times that her reasoning for sharing this part of her story is to warn others, so that they can be on the lookout for so-called "snakes" in their own lives. While her anger is completely understandable, as these wounds are fresher than the wounds of her childhood, I still found the bitterness to be a sharp contrast to the loving forgiveness that she showed to her parents.
There are also about twenty pages near the end of the book in which Twain talks about her body image, and even at length about her hair. Throughout the book she mentioned that she didn't care much about her appearance or make-up, but also, strangely, that she didn't consider herself to be beautiful or desirable. I found it really hard to feel sorry for her at that point, especially when she spent several pages talking about how her boobs weren't as perky as they used to be, or how her husband will pull out issues of Hello! calling her the Most Beautiful Canadian, when she doesn't believe that he thinks she's beautiful. It almost seemed like this part of the book was tacked onto the end because she didn't have any other place to put it.
Over all, I really enjoyed the book. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and depth of the writing. I even found her use of phrases like "Go figure!" to be endearing. However, I found that by the end I wasn't really sure that it had been written for me. It seemed much more of a catharsis for Twain herself than it was a way to connect with fans, or to fill in gaps about her life. I still feel as though many things were left out. Though a big deal has been made over the fact that she temporarily paused her music career in order to care for her siblings, she talked very little of the challenges of becoming a surrogate mother. I also found it strange that, with the exception of her sister Carrie-Ann, her siblings weren't mentioned much at all in the second half of the book. Though I found her interpretation of many events felt naïve, I suspect this may be the result of secrets Twain wasn't able or willing to share.