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One Man at a Time: Secrets of a Serial Monogamist

by Elizabeth Simpson

The title of this memoir might lead the reader to expect a dishy, bitchy, spaghetti-strapped session with a Helen Fielding or a Melissa Bank, the top-girls in the urban dating adventures genre. But the reader would be wrong. This massively detailed, hugely solipsistic, and humour-free account of a middle-aged woman’s journey to selfhood appeals less to today’s latte vixens than to their mothers. One Man at a Time chronicles the Boomer bummers of my mother’s generation, and whether or not you find such tales appealing may depend on how you respond to those kitchen-table talks with Mom.

Simpson’s story begins in postwar Winnipeg and Regina, where young Elizabeth – bookish, sensitive, anxious to fit in and yet desperate to find her own voice – finds herself with conflicting feelings about her stolid prairie family and society’s expectations of girlhood. As a frisky young adult she’s anxious to aquire a husband and children, but when she marries a local boy the children don’t follow and joy turns into dissatisfaction.

Later there’s the inevitable divorce, leading to the appearance of a feckless second husband who enjoys fine literature and the theatre but can’t help dogging other women. Eventually Simpson finds safe harbour with a better, wiser male who, we are told, strokes her face when she feels lost.

All of this might be enlightening but for Simpson’s sticky concentration on hearth and home – the upheavals of the 1960s, for example, are referred to in one sentence – which gives the reader little idea of how the author’s experiences were shaped by political and social forces. And curiously, for a writer who stresses the importance of sex, the nasty itself gets short shrift: readers will have to make do with such first-year creative writing sentiments as “Known for his talent on the dance floor, he swept women out of their sandals and into his word play.” Mom, I’m sorry, but can we finish this later?