Dreher’s The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life is a jumble of cancer struggles, family dynamics, spiritual wanderings and signs, Parisian epiphanies, warring character traits, and contemplations on the meaning of community.
Does that sound like a whole lot to tackle in one memoir? It is. To make it even more scattered, Rod Dreher seems to be conflicted or undecided on many of the topics. For example, most of the time he describes his sister Ruthie as a loving and kind mother, wife, and teacher. He often refers to her as a saint (in the Roman Catholic sense of the word)! The rest of the time he describes her as rude, disapproving, and close-minded when he made decisions different than Ruthie’s – such as living away from their hometown, writing for a living, home-schooling his children, exploring his Christianity more deeply, and cooking a French dish. Yes, that last one’s a real example. Another time he tells how frustrating and limiting he found living in a small town and having a father who did not understand him…and then admits that the same frustrated relationship is repeating itself with his own son.
Dreher also leaves many interesting stories unexplored. In particular, his aunts’ service in France during WWII and his investigation of abuse in the Roman Catholic church leading him to switch denominations intrigued me. I hope he writes more on these in the future.
Despite the flaws, I finished the book quickly because many of the questions he raises are ones young adults and parents will answer simply by living their lives.
- Do I let peers, family, school, culture, or church pressure me into accepting something that’s incorrect? Or have I chosen the opposite opposition as a reaction, not as a measured decision?
- Do I choose a career or passion that requires me to move far from my extended family?
- Do I let a few individuals in a group turn me off to the entire group?
- What is my duty to my extended family? What is my duty to my child? How would I resolve a conflict between the two?
- Where do I have prejudice because it’s different – not because it’s morally wrong – and how do I root that out and not pass that on to the next generation?
- What am I doing to cultivate relationships with others? Do I need to seek reconciliation with anyone? How do I show love for another while not giving approval to their sins?
- How would my family tackle a life-threatening illness? How can I help others going through one right now?
- Will I choose to make family and community relationships an idol? How can I keep it in proper perspective?
- How often can a person change denominations before he or she burns out on the idea of church and God altogether?
- How much navel-gazing can one do before becoming an indecisive mess?
I did not find a satisfying story nor the secret of a good life in The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life, but sometimes just being called to reflect on your own decisions is enough. Recommended.