Vision of a Happy Life

A Memoir

Non-Fiction - Memoir
340 Pages
Reviewed on 05/21/2019
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Author Biography

Geraldine Birch has been a newspaper reporter most of her life, having worked for various community newspapers in Southern California and Arizona. Her work included a ten-year stint as a free-lance writer for the Los Angeles Times.

In 1991, she moved to Sedona, Arizona, where she worked as a reporter, editor, and political columnist for the Sedona Red Rock News. Birch’s political column “Gerrymandering,” was awarded a first place national award by the National Newspaper Association.

Her writing has also appeared in the Arizona Republic, the Christian Science Monitor, Opium, Six Hens, and Fiction Attic Press.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite

If all those who want to write a memoir wrote their stories the way Geraldine Birch wrote Vision of a Happy Life, both publishers and readers would be more receptive to this less popular form of book. The reason is that Birch, like a skilled fiction author, knows how to write “beautiful and raw stories about hidden events that will make you keep turning the pages.” How does she do this? By not falling victim to the typical memoirist approach of relying on the narrator to tell the entire story from his/her own perspective. Birch allows the characters surrounding and impacting the narrator’s life to reveal themselves through their own words and actions. As a result, the story and its characters come alive, stir our emotions at their depths, and involve readers at all levels. This is great memoir writing.

Vision of a Happy Life is the vision that Geraldine Birch had, as a divorced and struggling mother, when she fell in love with, and married a wealthy grocery market owner, John Stewart. That vision included being a stay-at-home mom to her sons, having plenty of money to enjoy the finer things in life, and mingling with the rich and even the famous at high-end events and locations. What she didn’t know and ultimately found out is what a messed-up family she had married into, a family that John loved but avoided knowing on anything but a surface level. His method of coping with family issues was to avoid them by throwing lavish parties, lending and borrowing money, and drinking. And most important to John and the family, as founders in their small community, was keeping up appearances at any cost. Bit by bit, the disintegration of Birch’s Vision of a Happy Life took a huge toll on her and her marriage.

Don’t be surprised, if as you read Vision of a Happy Life, you alternate between shaking your head with incredulity, to laughing to crying, as no doubt Geraldine Birch often did. I marvelled that she lasted as long as she did in the Stewart family and I cheered for her when she finally extricated herself. This story is so easy to read and enjoy. As it says on her author’s website, Birch is an “ace writer, who knows the art of weaving words.” That’s why this memoir succeeds where so many other memoirs fail. Highly recommended for both aspiring memoirists and those who know a well-written memoir can be as riveting as any work of fiction.

Jack Magnus

Vision of a Happy Life: A Memoir is a nonfiction memoir written by Geraldine Birch. Birch had always wondered if following her dream and going for her Associate’s degree in journalism had destroyed her first marriage. And while she had read plenty of articles about how women can have and do it all, being a single mom with two young boys was a stressful and often awful experience. Her daily life was overwhelmed by the fear that she would be late to pick them up from daycare, and the nights they had to make do with ramen noodles broke her heart. When John Stewart began to romance her, it seemed like something out of a second-chance fairy tale. In retrospect, she should have been clued in when John and his attorney asked her to sign a prenuptial agreement, ostensibly to shield her from his debts. She would be entering the relationship on an uneven footing, but the lure of a secure home for her kids, a comfortable lifestyle and the chance for her to be a mom during their early years, combined with her growing and real affection for John Stewart, made it impossible for her to walk away.

Vision of a Happy Life is a enthralling read that kept me turning the pages until I had finished her story. Her description of waiting on line for gasoline during those shortages in the 1970s, having to leave her car there and then anxiously running back the next morning all the while terrified at having left her kids alone at home, had a huge impact upon me. I remember those lines and can’t begin to imagine the hardships they posed for a young mother juggling home, kids and a demanding job. Birch tells her story with the elegant fluidity one would expect from a novel, making me remind myself at times that this was, indeed, a memoir. Her descriptions of John’s family members and their interactions with her have a ring of authenticity, and anyone who’s ever worked in a mom and pop store, as I have, will recognize some of those relatives in Birch’s brilliant character studies. I winced as John did nothing to make her feel a part of the family and marveled at her resilience in not only coping with the situation but thriving in spite of it all. Anyone who reads this well-written and compelling memoir will never look at single mothers and the burdens they bear in quite the same way again. Nor will they accept at face value the hollow comforts of a well-to-do existence. Vision of a Happy Life: A Memoir is most highly recommended.