Carol Loew Hits a New High with Memorable Memoir
In her debut, an author looks back in candor
By Ed Goldman
Carol Loew’s charming, candid and evocative memoir, “Unlocking the Cage”—whose subtitle is “Becoming Authentic”—proves that it’s never too late in life to be introspective.
The first-time author, who’s perhaps an octogenarian (she’s a bit coy about that), will also have her first book signing tomorrow from 4-7 pm at the Nepenthe Clubhouse in Campus Commons, 1131 Commons Drive in what I like to call Far East Sacramento (not because it’s particularly Asian; just because it’s further east than East Sacramento but still within the city limits).
Carol Loew with Bentley. Photo by Kimberly Olker Photography.
The book combines a personal history of Jewish assimilation, what one might call family gossip (forgivable when one’s family is this interesting), and a personal layer-peeling as Loew comes to grips with the girl she was, the mother and wife she was expected to be and now, the self-confident woman whose own life lessons are relatable—whether you’re a Jewish female, an Episcopalian torero, a Buddhist swim coach or a transitional transcendentalist.
“Yesterday, I told my most trusted friend that I was happy,” Loew writes in the prologue to her memoir. “For most of my life, I have been asked ‘Are you happy?’ or ‘What would make you happy?’ I could not even define happiness. The Webster Dictionary defines happy as joyous, pleased and lucky. Today, that is me and I am so ‘happy’ to finally meet me.” Despite her self-discovery, she seems surprised to learn, “the world has not exploded and no one took away my birthday.”
She recounts lovingly her early years in Redwood City, California, where her Big Grandpa, as she called him, owned the “Main Street Furniture Company, new and used.” She writes: “He was so methodical. He wore black cotton sleeve covers over his starched dress shirt every single day to work. When he arrived home, he would enter the house, stop and remove his sleeve covers in the laundry area and cleanse his hands in the wash tub. Then head to a shelf over the sink where he would reach for a bottle and shot glass and pour himself a schnapps. Then he was ready to greet the family.”
Loew’s description of such a simple routine is what makes her a real writer—and for noticing the things she noticed when she was so young, probably a lifelong one. That passage made me think of my own beloved father returning from work as a firefighter and, as he took me in his embrace I could smell the cigarettes, Luden’s cough drops, after-shave and soot that had informed his day. Also the cold feel of his face from his having just walked up to our apartment from the subway in the dead of a New York winter.
One of the more endearing parts of “Unlocking the Cage” comes on page 105 under the heading, “We Interrupt This Memoir.” It’s when the author breaks what’s similar to the “fourth wall” in theater, steps outside her character and almost meta-details what she’s doing in the book.
“It is January, 2020,” she writes. “a new year and a new decade. I am the almost new and improved person that I have strived to be.” But, she admits, she still has some miles to go. And just like that, the stories resume—but now with our greater sense that the anecdotes are leading to a vastly satisfying coda.
Loew details her marriages, jobs, joys and disappointments with warmth and despair but never with easy sentimentality. Her eye is always that of the dispassionate watcher, taking mental and highly visual notes that she’d someday, perhaps even unbeknownst to her, weave into her nonfiction debut. When you read “Unlocking the Cage,” available at Amazon, you’ll discover the emotional landscape of one very particular person’s very particular life. And I dare you to not see yourself.
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