Book Review

A slow love blooms after the fast life dies

By Judy Bolton-Fasman
May 12, 2010

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Dominique Browning was the editor of Home & Garden for more than a decade. She wore designer clothes to work and represented the magazine at chic, hip New York events. She managed a large staff and commuted into Midtown from a tony suburb. She raised her two sons as a single mother and had dinner with them almost every night, even if the meal was at the local pizzeria. Everything she did — editing, socializing, and, at times, parenting — was often done at the speed of her BlackBerry.

“Slow Love’’ tells the story of how Browning’s life changed in 2007, after she lost the job that anchored her. In burnished, exquisite prose, Browning describes her feelings of being set adrift until she gradually transforms her helter-skelter days into a deliberate, contemplative way of life. Browning’s thoughtful incorporation of “slow love’’ into her days only shares an adjective with the contemporary Slow Movement that wags a finger at over-scheduling and rushing from one experience to the next in a blur.

Browning’s goal in achieving and yes, savoring, slow love is about more than steadying her pulse or stopping to smell the roses in her garden. Slow love, which has nothing to do with dating or conventional romance, eventually happens to a woman who is initially so disoriented that she goes to the local farmers’ market in her pajamas and confuses Friday with Saturday. “Slow love,’’ says Browning, countering the refrain of the old Joni Mitchell song “Big Yellow Taxi,’’ “is about knowing what you’ve got before it’s gone.’’

It speaks to Browning’s wisdom as an editor and skill as a writer that she doesn’t indulge in the old chestnut that when one door slams another one opens. Neither does she give credence to the idea that unemployment is necessarily an organic catalyst to positive change. For those first few jobless months Browning sits in her empty nest unsuccessfully warding off depression by baking batches of chocolate chip cookies, frenetically weeding and planting her overgrown garden, and chastising herself for wasting so many years on the wrong man.

After half a year of random activity, she sells the house she expected to grow old in, to be her “Forever House . . . the place where you’ve passed along the values you admire to your own children, and in doing so, filled the rooms with laughter and tears’’ — because she can no longer bear to confront the memories of her old life.

Admittedly, changing one’s life is simpler when money is not an issue. It would be easy to be jealous of Browning. She sells her primary residence in New York and moves into her second home in Rhode Island, which she has knocked down and rebuilt. The result is not only aesthetic. Being surrounded by light and the ocean enables her to achieve transparency as well as to be fully present in the narrative of her life.

In her new home Browning allows mint to colonize her lawn because she can. The last time she planted mint was in her boyfriend’s garden, where it sprouted at what he considered an alarming rate until he killed it with pesticides. But at the beach Browning revels in doing as she pleases and cherishing the quiet joy that comes with such freedom.

There’s a lovely “thinking out loud’’ quality to “Slow Love’’ that makes the reader privy to Browning’s soul. This is a book that could have easily veered into cliché or even self-pity. The genius of this powerful tome is that Browning takes the emotional upheaval of losing the job that had been “the scaffolding’’ of her life and chronicles the fuller, more enriching life that emerged after she triumphantly dismantles the old one.

Judy Bolton-Fasman is a columnist for The Jewish Advocate and is working on a memoir about her father.

SLOW LOVE: How I Lost My Job, Put on My Pajamas and Found Happiness By Dominique Browning

Atlas, 250 pp., $23