“Some children grow stronger in the broken places, like bones; others grow sadder. I did both.” — Laura Zigman, Separation Anxiety
When we begin Laura Zigman’s latest novel, Judy’s life is falling apart. She’s is 50 years old and living with her husband, Gary, even though they’re separated, because they can’t afford a divorce. He also struggles with debilitating anxiety which he treats with copious amounts of cannabis — more than he likely needs. Her 13-year-old son, Teddy, is pulling away from her more and more each day, as teenagers tend to do. Both her parents have recently passed away and she doesn’t know how to cope. The cherry on top of her shit pie life is that her best friend, Glenn, is dying of cancer.
So it’s almost no surprise when she starts wearing Teddy’s old baby sling after she finds it in her basement one day. However, since she has no baby to carry around in it, she utilizes her dog, Charlotte, instead. The relief she experiences is almost instantaneous and borderline nirvanic. Unwilling to let go of that feeling, Judy starts carrying Charlotte around in the sling everywhere: around the house, to meetings at Teddy’s school, to the grocery store — everywhere.
The recurring themes of anxiety run steadily throughout the story as we watch Judy struggle to get a good grasp on the reigns of her life. Anxiety, after all, stems from a need to cling to something: be it people or envisioned outcomes or the fear of losing control. Judy’s undiagnosed anxiety isn’t unreasonable: she’s had enough happen to her to vindicate a little “madness.” But while she runs around trying to keep the layers of her life from falling apart, her coping mechanisms aren’t always the most reasonable.
Zigman takes us through Separation Anxiety with humor and lightheartedness but keeps the richness of the heart of the story intact from beginning to end. At times, there are so many kooky things happening at the same time in the story (a mystery pooper at Teddy’s school, dropping little presents in the halls, for example) that it almost seems like a circus where the ringleader has lost control of his animals and his performers. But there’s a deeper meaning there, too: absolutely nothing in life is under control.
This is something that Judy is going to have to come to terms with. There is no controlling what happens in life at any time, one must simply allow things to unfold as they will, the good and the bad alike.
Separation Anxiety is a charming story that many of us can relate to, reflecting on the many different ways we as human beings try to cope and find comfort in the madness of life. Zigman delivers a heartfelt message about accepting life as it comes and finding the silver lining in every dark cloud.