Mothers of Sparta: A Memoir in Pieces

Mothers of Sparta: A Memoir in Pieces

Discovered by Michael Ondaatje, Davies’ dazzling literary memoir has shades of Mary Karr, Anne Lamott, and Jenny Lawson.Some women are born mothers, some achieve motherhood, others have motherhood thrust upon them. Dawn Davies is in the third category. A six-foot-tall divorcee, she isn’t chatty, couldn’t care less about anyone’s potty training progress, doesn’t care to sha...

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Title:Mothers of Sparta: A Memoir in Pieces
Author:Dawn Davies
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Edition Language:English

Mothers of Sparta: A Memoir in Pieces Reviews

  • Lynne

    This is the first book I have read that both wrenches your gut with heartbreak and makes you laugh out loud at the humor at the same time. Dawn Davies reveals her life in graphic detail, all her most intimate thoughts on childbirth, divorce, raising a blended family and a life full of pets. She writes her memoir in loosely connected chapters from various points in her life. Some are hilarious accounts of everyday life events interspersed with tragic and painful events which are unique to Ms. Dav

    This is the first book I have read that both wrenches your gut with heartbreak and makes you laugh out loud at the humor at the same time. Dawn Davies reveals her life in graphic detail, all her most intimate thoughts on childbirth, divorce, raising a blended family and a life full of pets. She writes her memoir in loosely connected chapters from various points in her life. Some are hilarious accounts of everyday life events interspersed with tragic and painful events which are unique to Ms. Davies. Just when you think this has been an extraordinarily well-written and entertaining memoir of life’s ups and downs, she charges forward with an all revealing ending which brings your heart to a standstill. Davies says she listened to the song “Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid” during her writing. She claims these words to be a warning for the memoirist. However, she left very little unsaid in her story. She is brazenly honest about the most brutal aspects of her life. I highly recommend this book but be forewarned that it will not “let you go” after reading it.

  • Jessica

    All my reviews can be found at:

    ~~~~

    **Please note that this is not a review of the whole memoir, just the sample that Flatiron Books released.**

    Flatiron Books advertised on their Facebook page about the Mothers of Sparta sampler: A Piece of Pie just in time for Thanksgiving. This sampler of Dawn Davies’ upcoming memoir was published on November 21st and is 18 pages long. This is the perfect time for this sampler to be release as it deals with a new mother dealing wi

    All my reviews can be found at:

    ~~~~

    **Please note that this is not a review of the whole memoir, just the sample that Flatiron Books released.**

    Flatiron Books advertised on their Facebook page about the Mothers of Sparta sampler: A Piece of Pie just in time for Thanksgiving. This sampler of Dawn Davies’ upcoming memoir was published on November 21st and is 18 pages long. This is the perfect time for this sampler to be release as it deals with a new mother dealing with her infant’s first Thanksgiving and the chaos that ensues. All she wants to do is bake a pie!

    Davies perfectly captured her experience and the story gives people who are not parents an idea of the craziness that new moms go through. I’m sure the parents that read this will laugh and understand where Davies comes from. Flatiron Books accomplished their intention of offering this sample for free: I want to read the rest of this memoir!

  • Virginia Macgregor

    I have a great deal of time for writers who write honestly about motherhood. Well, about life, really. And for those who write beautifully too; I have a weak spot for writing that straddles the line between prose and poetry. Dawn Davies does both these things (writes honesty; writes beautifully) and oh so much more in her memoir, Mothers of Sparta. Her writing is brave and raw and physical. She uses sparklingly original metaphors. The kind of metaphors that knock you sideways and make you feel g

    I have a great deal of time for writers who write honestly about motherhood. Well, about life, really. And for those who write beautifully too; I have a weak spot for writing that straddles the line between prose and poetry. Dawn Davies does both these things (writes honesty; writes beautifully) and oh so much more in her memoir, Mothers of Sparta. Her writing is brave and raw and physical. She uses sparklingly original metaphors. The kind of metaphors that knock you sideways and make you feel grateful to the writer for enlarging your experience of what you thought you knew and understood. Her writing never flinches from telling it how it really is, no matter how hard it is to receive – and, I imagine, to write.

    If good writing is truth, then this good writing indeed.

    In her ‘memoir in pieces’ Dawn Davies writes beautiful, lyrical essays. And in the spirit of these non-linear fragments that nevertheless create a whole, a life, let me offer up some of the pieces that I most enjoyed.

    In her opening essay, Night Swim, Davies writes about glimpsing the futures of her daughters as she watches them swim at night – and accepting the pain that, ‘They will never stay yours, for they weren’t yours to begin with. One day they will leave you, shoot off into the sky, and take their place in the bigger constellation. And it’s your job to let it go. Let it go. Let it go. It’s gone.’ I have two little girls, like she does. Every day, I get a glimpse of their beauty and of how fleetingly they are mine. In this, and many other of the essays, I felt like she was writing straight to my heart.

    Elsewhere, Davies writes about her parents’ divorce which happens: 'as quickly as a summer storm, engineering a slow family tailspin that will take years to right.'

    She writes of a love that ended before it had had the chance to live as a man she dated, ‘rode his motorcycle up and down a mountain at high speed until he drove himself into an unmarked construction hole at two in the morning.’

    Davies is the first writer to describe pregnancy in way that I can fully identify with: ‘I am pregnant, the kind of pregnant where the baby is crowding your breath and it feels like you are sucking air through a snorkel, and there is no room in your thorax because a human being that is not you, yet is a little bit you, is taking up the room where your guts should be spreading out, relaxing, enjoying the weekend…’

    And in the same essay, she writes about how, heavily pregnant, she realises that her marriage is a lie. That she and her husband don’t know each other at all. And how lonely that is.

    She writes a heart-breaking account of trying to make a pie from scratch (over and over – it keeps going wrong) to impress her in-laws when she has a newborn in tow and can barely keep her eyes open from sleep-deprivation. This essay shows another aspect of Davies’s skill as a writer: that she writes as meaningfully about the failure to make a pie as she does about marriage and divorce and motherhood.

    And there is truth in that too, because life, of course, is full of both the mundane and the extraordinary.

    In a highly original essay, Davies describing divorce through the structure of a military field manual from, ‘2. MANAGING THE DECOMPOSITION OF CASUALTIES AFTER BATTLE’ to the humorous, ‘9. BREAKING THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT’ when she finds love again. Perhaps the most moving sentence in this mostly humorous essay, is a comment on how her divorce affected her children; how their small, physical bodies broke down from the stress and sadness at having their family torn apart: ‘The emotions of what we had been through were coming out of their orifices, like shrapnel working its way through skin.’

    If you’re starting to think that all this is a bit too heavy-going, move on to her essay entitled, Men I Would Have Slept With. Pages of the famous and not famous and why she would have liked to slip between their sheets, from Jason Bateman to Anton Chekov to some she calls, 'Doctor, First-Year Resident, Emergency Room, North Florida.' Her reasons for wanting to sleep with these men are hilarious and compelling.

    This is something else that I love about Dawn Davies. Her ability to place light and shade side by side in a way that makes you realise that one cannot live without the other.

    Humour and tragedy are a co-dependent ecosystem; tears and laughter share a vital organ.

    Perhaps most harrowingly, Davies writes about physical pain. I live in a state suffering from an opioid epidemic. The other day, on the radio, I heard a woman say that we were all just a breath away from becoming an addict. That an accident or illness could tip any of us over the edge into dependency on pain medication that could lead us to places that we never thought we would go.

    Pain is indiscriminate in its victims. Dawn Davies talks about the cocktail of Ambien and Percocet which brought her so close to the edge that she had to ask her husband to flush away the pills. She writes of pain and drugs in this way: ‘We take drugs to avoid pain, we avoid pain because we are afraid of losing control, and we lose control trying not to feel pain. The pain eats the drugs, the drugs eats the anxiety, the anxiety eats the pain, and we are left with a roil of snakes shaped like a Celtic knot, each with another’s tail in its dirty little mouth. Everything has a price.’ A brilliant and truthful piece of writing, which captures this complicated and tragic dilemma perfectly.

    Again, a little more humorously, though tragically too, Davies writes about the heartbreak of adopting a broken, damaged, feral dog that, in the end, she has to take away from her children for their safety. She writes beautifully when she talks of how she had to lie to them about taking Moose, the dog, away: ‘Children can hope for a long time without it burning their hands, far longer than adults can, which is what allows them to complete the act of growing up in a world where people lie, where people let you down all the time, a world where love isn’t always enough, a world where, sometimes, you have to give up on someone else in order to save yourself. Yet losing this kind of hope can break a child’s heart. This is why parents lie to their kids. Because they aren’t ready to see them lose hope. I understood this, which is why I decided I would like to my children about Moose.’

    A few lines on she writes, she writes these stunning and haunting lines about a dream she has for where she would like to take this dog she has to destroy: ‘We would drive west, this sick dog and I, towards the Everglades, a magical part of Florida where the air felt new, and zummed with ozone and post-rain plant juices, mosses, and paisley-shaped snake-made eddies, swirling quietly in watered curves, the slicing of wind in the grass, where the shaded undersides of things took away your heat, put out your fire.’

    Davies writes as beautifully about the natural world as she does about her physical body and her emotional landscape.

    In the last few essays of the memoir, Dawn writes humorously about taking on the rather unexpected role of a soccer mom. My four year old daughter took part in her first soccer class - albeit a very informal one - last Saturday. My husband took her with our one year old strapped to his body in a sling. He said that he felt like a soccer mom.Another all-American experience we English folk will have to get used to.

    Anyway, back to Davies. She is not a natural soccer mom. Like me, she would probably rather be reading a good book than standing on the side of a pitch yelling her lungs out as her offspring gets close to the ball. But that's another funny thing about motherhood. Davies describes how it transforms us and pushes us into being creatures that we barely recognise.

    Still on the subject of parenthood, she writes with painful and refreshing honesty about those times when you just can't take it anymore and yet realise that, in this area of life, almost like no other, you have no choice. You have to stick it out. You can't give them back. Or walk out. Well, you can, but that's a whole other story. Interestingly, when I exchanged some messages with Dawn Davies, late one night when I should have been sleeping, I told her about my second novel, The Return of Norah Wells and that it was about a young mother who walks out on her family and comes back years later expecting to pick up where she left off. She said that she had a half written novel in a drawer about a mother who walks out. We're clearly on the same wavelength. I also experienced a jolt of joy when she said that she'd read my debut, What Milo Saw, a few years ago. Not many Americans have.

    So, Davies writes about this sense of entrapment that you can feel as a mother:

    It’s as if you got drunk and joined the Marines on a lark and now you want out, only there is no way out without going to prison.

    Balance this with the great love she has for her daughters, expressed in Night Swim and you will see that Davies likes to hold the paradoxes of life and experience up to light and to say: it’s both. Parenting is the most beautiful experience and the greatest gift and also, at times, hell.

    Later, she writes about ordering a wedding dress on the cheap from china for her daughter which she ends up selling in a Hooters parking lot for fifty bucks after her daughter – thank goodness – decides not to marry at twenty but to stay at college and pursue her own, glittering ambitions.

    There is the story of another dog who kills all the family pets and how it is somehow tragically and hilariously always her fault. Of all the trouble he caused. Of how her daughters always blamed her. And how they sobbed on the phone when she announced that he had died. And this leads her to think about the life that was and how much she misses it and how the silence, ‘made my head hurt.’ How even when something infuriatingly annoying and in the case of this dog, destructive, goes, something good is always lost too.

    And, of course, the controversial and absolutely heart breaking penultimate essay, the title essay: Mothers of Sparta, in which Davies confronts the reality of having given birth to a child damaged both physically and emotionally and, worse than this, a child capable of and seemingly numb to hurting others. She uses the Sparta, the city in ancient Greece, in which, if a baby did not pass the test of the elders – if he was not perfect in mind, body, soul and spirit, if there was any sign that he would be anything less than a greater and noble warrior, he was throw into a pit called the Apothetae, where he would, ‘either die from the fall or from exposure, or be eaten by animals.’

    In this essay, Davies asks one of the greatest moral questions of all time is raised: is it possible to love a sociopath. A question that the mother of every murderer or paedophile or rapist or school shooter has had to face. A question that reminds me of the premise behind the hugely successful novel, We Need To Talk About Kevin. In that novel, the mother’s problem was that she didn’t love her child and felt that this might be responsible for his sociopathy, that somehow, right from the start, he had absorbed her lack of love and that it had made him evil. Davies’s essay is subtler than this. Of course she still loves her son: ‘I love my son with a weakness and fierceness at the same time.’ Weakness because mothers cannot help but love our children. Fierceness because, as mothers, we are always determined to find a way to save our children.

    This review is longer than most.

    That is because this is a very special book. A rare book. One in which the content is as beautifully crafted as the style; one which spans the whole gamut of human emotions; one that speaks right to our times – to what it means to be a mother, a wife, a woman, a daughter, a human being – and yet is universal, too. Hence Sparta.

    I hope that I will see this book become a bestseller. It deserves at least that.

  • Carin

    I do love a memoir, so even though this is a memoir in a series of essays instead of a straight narrative, I was excited. Even though it was about motherhood, I was still really looking forward to it. And I liked the first few essays a lot. Ms. Davies is not a typical soccer mom and she doesn't make any excuses for that. The story about all the household pets that kept dying was hilarious (yes, also sad. But also funny.) And the story about when she was 20-ish and an accident happened right in f

    I do love a memoir, so even though this is a memoir in a series of essays instead of a straight narrative, I was excited. Even though it was about motherhood, I was still really looking forward to it. And I liked the first few essays a lot. Ms. Davies is not a typical soccer mom and she doesn't make any excuses for that. The story about all the household pets that kept dying was hilarious (yes, also sad. But also funny.) And the story about when she was 20-ish and an accident happened right in front of her, and she helped a woman as she lay dying, was riveting. But then there were a couple of lightweight essays, including one about being a soccer mom. From a woman who supposedly wasn't a soccer mom at all! I started to get annoyed, and then the essay "Mothers of Sparta" followed, and it is harrowing.

    It turns out that Dawn's son, who isn't mentioned but in passing in the book up to this point (mostly her daughters are talked about), has severe problems. He was born with a cleft palate, he has health issues, and also mental health issues. As he grows up, they only get to be bigger problems. In the media, we only ever see little kids with problems, or old people who have been institutionalized. There is an enormous population of people dealing with people who are physically bigger than them, who can't be locked down, who their families don't want to institutionalize (if there even were institutions that would keep them safe and well cared for which is dubious). What do you do when you have a very large 20-something who does not understand that kiddie porn is a problem? Who is very good with computers and can get around any parental controls and even the removal of electronic devices? Not only could he be arrested, but so could you. And what if he were to try to act on these feelings he doesn't understand, and doesn't understand are wrong?

    Personally, I wish that essay had been the entire book. I wish it had been expanded and extrapolated on, and not relegated to being similar in weight to a story about pets or soccer. I do get that having it right after the fluffy soccer essay made the impact greater, but that just wasn't necessary—it has a huge impact by itself. I can see the author's point that she is so much more than her biggest problem, and her family is more than their biggest problem, and her life has both been centered around trying to keep her son safe (and keep the world safe from her son) but also it's been centered around not being centered around that. She doesn't want her son's problems to be the sole focus of her life and her daughters' lives, understandably. And yet. And yet.

    In Sparta, when a baby is born, the local priests would come and inspect it. If the baby wasn't perfect, it would be cast into a pit to die. Was that the cruelest thing in the world, or perhaps a brutal kindness? Dawn knows her son would have been relegated to the pit. And she would have fought viciously for him to survive. And yet, to what end? The ethical and moral questions she brings up are almost never discussed, certainly not this honestly by someone in the midst of them, and they really do need to be discussed. As more health issues are diagnosed and more mental health issues come into the open, we need to look them in the face and really deal with them, not sweep them under the rug so long as they are someone else's problem. This essay is a vital and oh so necessary one that everyone should read. It's raw and inspiring and honest to the core. The book overall is quite good, but just wait until you get to this essay that makes everything worthwhile.

  • Amy Morgan

    Thank you Edelweiss for my review copy of this book. Mothers of Sparta was an engaging and entertaining read.

    Dawn Davies tells the story of her life from her childhood that was not made easy as she moved towns every couple of years and never seemed to quite fit in - whether it was with the kids in each new town or the other people she meets as she progresses into motherhood.

    We see the moments of Dawn's life through the stories in this book that tealky shaped her life. From her sense of instabili

    Thank you Edelweiss for my review copy of this book. Mothers of Sparta was an engaging and entertaining read.

    Dawn Davies tells the story of her life from her childhood that was not made easy as she moved towns every couple of years and never seemed to quite fit in - whether it was with the kids in each new town or the other people she meets as she progresses into motherhood.

    We see the moments of Dawn's life through the stories in this book that tealky shaped her life. From her sense of instability in her childhood to holding the hand of a dying stranger to difficult pregnancies and a marriage doomed from the start to finding out her youngest son is severely troubled to a chance st starting over and finding a way out of the darkness and back into the light.

    Davie's struggles are something many can relate to and she tells her stories in a strong and often humorous voice.

  • Megan C.

    I've been reading this one each night before bed and I'm LOVING it. It's a collection of essays encompassing the author's life, from childhood to the present day, and it can easily be read straight through or in smaller, separate portions. It's funny and serious and heartwrenching and lovely and REAL.

    The essays on parenthood are incredibly powerful, and they all resonated deeply with me, but far and away the most striking was the piece where the author lays bare the struggle to raise her son, w

    I've been reading this one each night before bed and I'm LOVING it. It's a collection of essays encompassing the author's life, from childhood to the present day, and it can easily be read straight through or in smaller, separate portions. It's funny and serious and heartwrenching and lovely and REAL.

    The essays on parenthood are incredibly powerful, and they all resonated deeply with me, but far and away the most striking was the piece where the author lays bare the struggle to raise her son, who battles mental illness and medical difficulties. That one rocked me to my core. Dawn Davies is freaking FIERCE.

    This one is going to stick with me for a long time - I went through half a tin of Book Darts (love those things) marking all the parts I wanted to remember! I'm including one of my favorite passages for you below - it kicked me right in the feelings. 😢

    “…and as you click two simple photos, paper fossils that will one day remind you how they once walked the Earth, you realize you have taken everything for granted. Your time with them. Their brief speck of time as children, the soft faces that turn to you as if you are the sun, the fact that time seems to move so slowly when in fact, it is whipping past you at one thousand miles per hour and why you haven’t flown off into space is beyond your comprehension. They will never stay yours, for they weren’t yours to begin with. One day they will leave you, shoot off into the sky and take their place in a bigger constellation.  And it’s your job to let it go."

    ~From 'Night Swim', Mothers of Sparta

  • Dawn Wells

    Praise for an amazing book written by a mom with a child with brain injury.

  • Selena

    I received a free ARC copy of Mothers of Sparta by Dawn Davies from Goodreads for my honest review. Mothers of Sparta is a collection of sad and funny personal essays that define Dawn Davies' life. This is a very different book and although I did find it very sad, it is brilliantly written.

  • Cheryl

    This is a light read. I breezed through this book in almost one sitting. Although, I will tell you that there were a few moments that were few and far between that I really liked reading about and can remember. Otherwise, the majority of the book was "fine". Not that I am taking anything away from the author and her story but when I am reading a memoir, I want to connect on a personal and emotional level. I really did not experience this while reading this book. Which was sad as I did think that

    This is a light read. I breezed through this book in almost one sitting. Although, I will tell you that there were a few moments that were few and far between that I really liked reading about and can remember. Otherwise, the majority of the book was "fine". Not that I am taking anything away from the author and her story but when I am reading a memoir, I want to connect on a personal and emotional level. I really did not experience this while reading this book. Which was sad as I did think that Ms. Davies was getting there. The humorist moments where gems. Overall, this book did not do it for me but it might for someone else.

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