I was interested in this book after reading so many of its positive (truly, gushing) reviews. So I’m somewhat surprised to say that I thought Ordinary Light, by Tracy Smith, was, well, just okay. There is no doubt that Smith can write. She is a wonderful storyteller, and I would argue that the more ordinary a moment, the more vividly and effectively she can describe it. Large chunks of this memoir are devoted to Smith’s day-to-day observations of and interactions with her family while her mother is dying from cancer, and I thought these portions of the book were beautiful, engaging, and compelling–probably the strongest writing of the bunch.
However, it was everything else that I just wasn’t that interested in. Not because it was written poorly; as I said before, the writing is excellent. No, it was the content that disappointed. Apart from the obviously intense, traumatic and deeply sad moments with or about her dying mother, there wasn’t much meat to this memoir–I think because, ultimately, Smith’s childhood was pretty happy and sheltered. (Dare I say, boring?) She kicks up a bit of rebellion while in college (over three-quarters of the way into the memoir) but even that felt forced and very, very tame.
I finished reading the book and thought, “I’ll bet Tracy Smith is a lovely person in real life; one of those people who is a very good friend. But I don’t need to read her memoir.” Ultimately, Ordinary Light just didn’t resonate with me.