Feature

Book of the week: Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer

Yoga is the lens through which the author explores marriage and motherhood. Her “lovely book” is every bit as cathartic as a 90-minute yoga class and far more fun to boot.

(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 352 pages, $26)

Yoga has just found the champion it needs, said Bill Eichenberger in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Whatever the benefits of the ancient Indian practice, its aspirations and pretzel-like poses can be “funny in the right hands,” and memoirist Claire Dederer is a writer who knows how to “set up a punch line.” As a married mother of two raising her children in gentrified North Seattle, Dederer skeptically turned to yoga a decade ago at the suggestion of her liberal-mom peers after she threw her back out while breast-feeding. Gradually, her wariness transforms into acceptance, and yoga becomes in this warmly funny book “the act that repeatedly forces her to look inward.” Its opening pages find her in class complaining out loud about a “tight feeling” she gets while attempting a camel pose. “Oh, that’s fear,” says the instructor. “Try the pose again.”

Dederer’s memoir “is going to be big,” said Buzzy Jackson in The Boston Globe. Yoga is the pretext, but Dederer makes it a lens for exploring the experiences of legions of “hip, progressive, trying-really-hard-to-do-it-right” mothers. She hilariously “skewers the pretensions of her fellow moms,” all of them committed to attachment parenting, progressive schooling, and buying organic. Yet with pitch-perfect self-deprecation, she also never lets you forget that she herself is part of the joke. Her narrative achieves “a yoga-like balance between pain and humor.” Candid descriptions of her anxieties about becoming an overbearing mom or a less-than-perfect wife can come rushing in as she sits in yoga class with one foot tucked ridiculously behind her head.

The author deserves a lot of credit for venturing into territory where most “serious female writers fear to tread,” said Dani Shapiro in The New York Times. Topics like bills, breast-feeding, laundry, baby-sitters, and, yes, yoga tend to get an essayist dismissed as a lightweight. But Dederer, a seasoned freelance writer, has managed to present them in such a way that they can’t be “dismissed as trivial.” At times, her journalist’s need to provide evidence takes over, resulting in short treatises on feminism or the history of yoga that “seem hijacked from a scholarly essay.” But such passages, though out of place, are incapable of ruining this “powerful, honest, ruefully funny memoir.” Poser is a “lovely book”—every bit as cathartic as a 90-minute yoga class and far more fun to boot.

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