All of This by Rebecca Woolf
This is a memoir I started reading, knowing, at least, part of the story. I don’t know what it would be like to find All of This and read it as someone who has never laid eyes on Rebecca Woolf’s writing because that’s the sole reason I picked it up.
Woolf is a longtime blogger. I hate the term mommy blogger, but her popularity rose alongside many other big names in the mid-aughts. I still keep up with her life and her family even though the heydays of blogging are over… that is, as much as it’s possible to keep up with someone’s life when they’re a stranger sharing the pieces they feel like sharing on Instagram.
That’s where I, and thousands of others, learned that Woolf’s husband Hal had aggressive pancreatic cancer. It’s where we followed along for four months as he grew sicker, the family grieved, and, in the end, he died.
Now, Woolf never made her marriage with Hal look particularly glowing. It was evident that they had their tensions and arguments. An unplanned pregnancy threw the two together (also chronicled in a Woolf book, Rockabye). The implication was that they may not have chosen each other in another life with a different start. But, they still had more kids, bought a house, vacationed together, and documented everything we all report to our best internet strangers.
Their lives seemed messy but happy. And then Hal got sick, and we all followed along in real-time, offering condolences and “You must be so sad”s.
We didn’t know she had asked him to divorce just before the diagnosis, and he’d said yes this time. We didn’t understand she was planning her exit, angry but hopeful until she had to put all that away to shepherd him and her kids through his final four months. We didn’t know that, when he died, she was finally free and relishing every minute of that freedom, living for herself without needing to be a buffer between the world and Hal.
She eventually explained that to all of us, first in small pieces online, as she slipped away from performative grief, and then by writing All of This.
Even knowing the broad strokes of this story before reading the book, the depth of the detail was more than I could have expected. Woolf uncovered every challenge, heartbreak, triumph and tension of her marriage and life.
All of This is not a book full of hate, though. Woolf writes:
“It is possible to hate a person with your entire body and also love him with the whole of your heart.”
Despite her (justified) anger and frustration and the fierce liberation that has many readers clutching their pearls, a certain sense of nostalgia, if not love, comes through in some passages about Hal. The people who impact us, shape us, and leave marks, are not always the people who are best for us, but we can’t deny their effect all the same.
Woolf is writing about the father of her kids, a man she loved at one point, and a person who caused her immense anguish. It’s not a neat cleave between love and hate, and this is also not a book that is particularly charitable to herself, either.
If nothing else, All of This is incredibly honest. I can’t imagine being that vulnerable in print, so I understand why this is a polarizing book. If you aren’t prepared to see a life laid bare, this isn’t the book for you.
All of This is a good reminder that nothing is as it seems, particularly online — and that it takes conscious bravery and willingness to hurt to find and live the lives that don’t hurt us back once we get there. It’s a call to arms to not put up with awful things just because you don’t want to reveal how terrible they are.
Thank you to Edelweiss and the publisher for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.