Mary Jo Doig introduces a mystery at the beginning of Patchwork, then unravels it as she takes us from her early childhood to the present, struggling to please everyone she cared about and enduring one heartbreak after another. It’s only when she confronts her past as a victim of sexual abuse and does the hard work of reconciling how it affected her life that she finds her strength and a place of peace to call her own.
It would be wise for potential readers to understand that some scenes in this memoir might trigger their own traumatic memories. Doig writes with such power and immediacy that I often found myself holding my breath as I read about the horrors she faced.
Doig patches her life together after major losses: the deaths of two children, the breakup of two marriages, and the temporary loss of her mental health. Readers will root for her as she gathers up the pieces and crafts a new life for herself, even as she appliques fabric hearts representing the people in her life onto a real quilt.
The author also weaves current events into her story. As we go deep into her personal struggle, she makes note of the larger world that barely touches her: the first TV shows, Howdy Doody and Hopalong Cassidy; a Peruvian dictator’s overthrow; thalidomide babies; the disappearance of the submarine Thresher.
Stitching together a life in caretaking as housewife, mother, social worker, day care provider and farm wife, she finally realizes she has been working to be what others needed, seeking their approval and never stopping to think what she herself really wanted.
“I’m tired of this work,” she writes. “The work hasn’t changed nor have the people. It’s me. I’ve changed.” She brings the reader into the present in her Virginia cabin, as she writes, “I stared out the window to the snowy meadow, thinking how grateful I was for my greatest healing tool—writing.” Doig has used all the tools she could get her hands on—therapy, hospitalization, self-help books (of which she credits many) and writing—to come to terms with her past and make a new home in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Excerpts from her journals and self-help books are threaded through the chapters like stitches on her quilt.
Reading much like a suspense novel, Patchwork is a brave, honest portrayal of one woman’s fight for the survival of her essential self. It will doubtless encourage many women with a similar experience to seek their own place of peace.