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The Fixed Stars ❮Reading❯ ➹ The Fixed Stars ➱ Author Molly Wizenberg – From a bestselling memoirist, a thoughtful and provocative story of changing identity, complex sexuality, and enduring family relationships
At age , while serving on a jury, author Molly From a bestselling memoirist, a thoughtful and provocative story of changing identity, complex sexuality, and enduring family relationships   At age , while serving on a jury, author Molly Wizenberg found herself drawn to a female attorney she hardly knew Married to a man for nearly a decade and mother to a toddler, Wizenberg tried to return to her life as she knew it, but something inside her had changed irredeemably Instead, she would The Fixed MOBI :↠ discover that the trajectory of our lives is rarely as smooth or as logical as we’d like to believe   Like many of us, Wizenberg had long understood sexual orientation as a stable part of ourselves: we’re “born this way” Suddenly she realized that her story was complicated Who was she, she wondered, if something at her very core could change so radically? The Fixed Stars is a taut, electrifying memoir exploring timely and timeless questions about desire, identity, and the limits and possibilities of family In honest and searing prose, Wizenberg forges a new path: through the murk of separation and divorce, coming out to family and friends, learning to coparent a young child, and realizing a new vision of love The result is a frank and moving story about letting go of rigid definitions and ideals that no longer fit, and learning instead who we really are  .

10 thoughts on “The Fixed Stars

  1. Jessica Woodbury Jessica Woodbury says:

    2.5 stars. There are two questions I always consider first and foremost when reading memoir. The first is whether the writer has enough distance from the thing they are writing about. It is possible to write about a recent time in your life, but it is extremely rare to do it well. (And when you do it well you have to make the recency of it work for you, to make it more visceral, more focused and fine-tuned.) The second is whether the writer has enough to write about at all. This is a trickier question because it may seem like a large event should be plenty. But somehow the biggest things in life, the things that are giant from your own perspective, can feel boring on the page. All of literature is marriage and breakups and motherhood. It is not so easy to take something people have read thousands of times before and make it feel new and urgent and unique. Again, it is possible to write about something small and specific, but you have to open it up and make the reader feel it or see it in a way that feels new.

    For me, this book fails on both counts. Wizenberg feels far too close to everything that happened to have much perspective on it. It feels more like she is in the act of working through it and figuring it out, more therapy session than book. It seems likely that she could write another memoir about the exact same series of events ten years from now and it would be an entirely different book (and I suspect a better one). Not every story, no matter how deeply you feel it, is ready to be a memoir. Love is overwhelming. Being a mother, going through a divorce, they are such big things. But they can also be quite boring on the page. They can feel lifeless without the right perspective and the right prose.

    Memoir can be an act of emotional violence to other people in your life. Good memoir about painful topics and difficult relationships requires the ability to be as honest about the other people in your life as you are about yourself. This book is not. She is kind to her ex-husband, kind to her current partner, and these relationships feel empty. In contrast, her first relationship with a woman is shown with much more clarity and spark. Which makes the other two only more limp by comparison. And because that relationship happens in tandem with her marriage and separation, it is immediately uneven. With her first girlfriend, we get the best parts of the book. We get details, we get frustrations. We follow Wizenberg as she charges into a new kind of sex, and then when she has made only a little progress, the story ends. We get almost nothing about sexual exploration with her next partner and we have almost nothing about her sexual history with her husband. We don't get enough context for the story, there is no beginning and no end, just this middle without introduction or resolution.

    I am not the audience for this book. I realized this after a while, realized that part of why I had trouble connecting to it is that it is not for me. Who is it for? Straight women, I think. It feels almost like an apology, an explanation, an attempt to lay out why she was once one of them and no longer is. It spends an awful lot of time defining and explaining. For much of the story she writes about queer people as if we are another species, tells stories of when and how she has seen us in the wild, wants to lay out the boundaries of what we are. Some of this is an attempt to explain herself, to try to figure out why she did not see herself as one of us before. That I can understand. I was not the kind of queer who knew it when I was 6. But there is still a remove that stays in place for the entire book where she does not ever see herself as joining a community as much as staking out some other territory altogether. You would think that I, a queer woman who has also gone through a divorce from a man that led to me getting to explore my queerness more fully, would find much to relate to here but instead I found almost nothing at all. At the end of the day, it does not matter to me if you have explained sexual fluidity as a thing that exists and has been documented. It matters whether you have showed me how it feels, and I never got to that point.

    The style here is, I admit, not my preference. It is loose and little of it is rooted in actual moments, instead it is more rooting around bigger, vaguer feelings. Wizenberg is working through these big, difficult changes while also figuring out her own identity. But the times when she stops her own story to quote someone else, to summarize someone's research in sexuality or gender, it doesn't lift the story. Perhaps it is helpful to her to see herself clearly, but it does not help the reader. It is also troubling to have yet another book where a cis woman explains to us how her trans partner defines themself. (Similarly there are times when she explains to us how divorce generally penalizes women financially more than men, but her privilege means it wasn't like that for her, etc.)

    As much as it may not sound like it here, I like reading about queer experiences that are different from mine. I like exploring the breadth of our community and the way our other identities intersect with our queerness. But I never felt like I saw anything more clearly in this book. I did not understand Wizenberg any better when it was over. And to be quite honest I'm not sure I would have finished it if I didn't already know who she was from reading her blog decades ago. The queer community has been hesitant to accept fluidity and a lack of labels, it is not always willing to expand boundaries, but this book doesn't do much to open up that conversation. But then again, it isn't really for us.

  2. Christine Christine says:

    4.5 stars rounded to 5 stars

    I rarely read memoirs, but this one called to me. The Fixed Stars is a very frank and absorbing account of Ms. Wizenberg’s painful yet steadfast journey to find herself at the age of 37.

    After ten years of marriage to her best friend and father (Brandon) of her only child (June), Molly is awakened by a very unexpected draw towards a lesbian attorney while serving jury duty. Over the next year, Molly and Brandon try valiantly to make things work within new parameters. Unfortunately for Brandon, he is at a disadvantage as Molly, for the most part, has put aside her dreams in order to help Brandon achieve his and is more than ready to change course.

    I was really impressed with Molly. She puts her heart and soul, sweat and tears into discovering who she is, what her goals are and how to achieve them. She takes Brandon to therapy and tries everything in her power to see if they can do this together and makes sure Brandon is as okay as possible throughout her trek to explore her own needs. I especially liked how she made sure her small daughter understands the basics of what is happening and remains an essentially well-adjusted kid.

    Molly is willing to open herself up to many people during her journey and just lays it all out there. How many of us can do that? She deeply researched her issues and includes many excellent references in a bibliography at the back of the book.

    Molly’s story is intimate, brave and inspiring. She is also an author by trade, and her writing style is excellent. Though it is nonfiction, it reads easily as if it were a novel. And for other avid readers similar to me who like to be educated while reading for pleasure, there is opportunity to learn much about gender fluidity.

    I highly recommend this memoir to all interested in reading about a fascinating journey in self-discovery and also those who want to learn more about gender identity.

    Beautiful job, Ms. Wizenberg!

    I’d like to thank Net Galley, Abrams Press, and Ms. Molly Wizenberg for an ARC of this book. Opinions are mine alone and are not biased in any way.

  3. Jenne Jenne says:

    You know how when someone you sort of know has a really unexpected breakup, and you desperately want to ask them for all the details but that would be rude?
    This book is like if that person showed up on your doorstep with a LARGE bottle of whiskey and proceeded to tell you exactly what went down.

  4. Anna Anna says:

    It was hard for me to connect with the writing. It felt like she was listing fact after a fact, quote after a quote, without actually diving in and exploring the specific problem she was talking about. The best parts of the book are when she's talking about her girlfriend. The only time that a relationship has any kind of emotional investment, feels real and alive.
    As a queer person what I disliked the most about the book was the way she was describing queer people. Like she was watching and studying from a safe distance these odd, rare species she once saw in the wild. She doesn't act like this is an actual community. She doesn't act like a person who is being a part of this community.
    This needed some more time to become an actual memoir. Right now it feels like one very long therapy session.

  5. Lauren Lauren says:

    I’d have to do some serious math to remember when I started reading Orangette, @molly.wizenberg’s blog, but a dozen years? I definitely read her memoir A Homemade Life while living in Harlem (2009) as I have vivid memories of reading it in my corner laundromat and I remember reading an ARC of Delancey at Sit and Wonder the very month that I got married. This preamble is just to say that I’ve been invested in her storytelling for a while. I was so excited to read her latest memoir which is, in broad strokes, a departure from her previous works which centered around food. That said, Wizenberg is always circling the self, family, friends, loved ones—everyone with whom you share a drink or meal. Her voice is so warm that the reader always feels like a confidant. Rather than provide much in the way of plot summary, I’ll just say that at age 36, married for many years and a mother for several years, Wizenberg found that her sexual orientation had shifted. This awareness was the first of many shifts that lead to a thorough re-evaluation of her history and what she thought of as her self. When I first learned that Wizenberg had gone through this experience (which I read about on her blog; I miss it still), I thought to myself, “Thank goodness Maggie Nelson wrote THE ARGONAUTS so that Molly could read it!” And now I can say thank goodness Molly wrote THE FIXED STARS which is a rigorous and passionate investigation into the real marrow of how we know ourselves and how we weather the inevitable changes of our lives. Changes in desire, in identity, in companionship, needs (small and expansive). This book was an avid reminder to me that conversation is vital to the health of any relationship and that we don’t make mistakes as long as we are clear about our needs—even when we’re not entirely sure what they are. The talking will help us get there, together. If you see me, I’m sure we’ll be talking about this.

  6. Rebecca Rebecca says:

    By contrast with her other two memoirs (especially A Homemade Life, one of my favorite books), this was an uncomfortable read. For one thing, it unpicks the fairy tale of what looked like a pretty ideal marriage and entrepreneurial partnership in Delancey. In the summer of 2015, Wizenberg was summoned for jury duty and found herself fascinated by one of the defense attorneys, a woman named Nora who wore a man’s suit and a butch haircut. The author had always considered herself straight, had never been attracted to a woman before, but this crush wouldn’t go away. She and her husband Brandon tried an open marriage so that she could date Nora and he could see other people, too, but it didn’t work out. Brandon didn’t want her to fall in love with anyone else, but that was just what was happening.

    Wizenberg announced her coming-out and her separation from Brandon on her blog, so I was aware of all this for the last few years and via Instagram followed what came next. So I knew that her new spouse is a non-binary person named Ash Choi who was born female but had top surgery to remove their breasts. (At first I was assumed Nora was an alias for Ash, but they are actually different characters. After things broke down with Nora, a mutual friend set her up with Ash.) The other source of discomfort for me here was the explicit descriptions of her lovemaking with Nora – her initiation into lesbian sex – though she draws a veil over this with Ash.

    I’m not sure if the intimate details were strictly necessary, but I reminded myself that a memoir is a person’s impressions of what they’ve done and what has happened to them, molded into a meaningful shape. Wizenberg clearly felt a need to dig for the why of her transformation, and her answers range from her early knowledge of homosexuality (an uncle who died of AIDS) to her frustrations about her life with Brandon (theirs really was a happy enough marriage, and a markedly amicable divorce, but had its niggles, like any partnership).

    I appreciated that, ultimately, Wizenberg leaves her experience unlabeled. She acknowledges that hers is a messy story, but an honest one. While she entertains several possibilities – Was she a closeted lesbian all along? Or was she bisexual? Can sexual orientation change? – she finds out that sexual fluidity is common in women, and that all queer families are unique. An obvious comparison is with Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, which is a bit more profound and original. But the mourning for her marriage and the anguish over what she was doing to her daughter are strong elements alongside the examination of sexuality. The overarching metaphor of star maps is effective and reminded me of Constellations by Sinéad Gleeson.

    There were points in the narrative where I was afraid the author would resort to pat answers about what was ‘meant to be’ or to depicting villains versus heroic actions, but instead she treats this all just as something that happened and that all involved coped with as best they could, hopefully making something better in the end. It’s sensitively told and, while inevitably different from her other work and perhaps a bit troubling for some, well worth reading for anyone who’s been surprised where life has led.

    Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.

  7. Sheena Sheena says:

    The Fixed Stars is about a woman struggling with her identity and sexual orientation. She is married and has a child but realizes something in her has changed. I found it hard to connect with the writing, and it was a little boring at times. I felt there were some unnecessary details about her marriage and the restaurant so I did skim towards the middle to the end of it. I probably am not the target audience for this book. 2.5 rating overall.

    Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the advanced copy!

  8. Jenny (Reading Envy) Jenny (Reading Envy) says:

    On the one hand, I think Molly's story is very relatable, a woman who after marriage and a child realizes she is attracted to other women and can't just let it go. I think this happens to a lot of people, and it's nice to have a narrative to find resonance in. On the other hand, I did not think the writing was that spectacular (there are some beautifully written moments - all where she is quoting other people like Maggie Nelson or Cheryl Strayed or Alison Bechdel,) the narrator (herself) is impossibly naive about queer culture to the extent that her first forays into new relationships are excruciatingly painful (she spends a lot of time reading about open marriage but no time about the topic that matters more to her?), and there are these weird moments where she declares her privilege in the middle of talking about something else (it's important to recognize privilege, but I actually suspect the reason her divorce was so easy had nothing to do with privilege and everything to do with neither party really being into it....) So it depends on why you want to read the book.

    One of these days, I will actually get to the first of her memoirs, which I've had on Kindle for years - A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table.

  9. Rachael Rachael says:

    You and a friend that you haven’t seen in a while get together to discuss how life has changed since you last saw each other. You listen intently to her story, unable to break from her words. You listen to your friend confess her most personal discretions, confuse her sexual orientation, change her identity, shatter her marriage, challenge the restrictions of love and attempt to keep her daughter neutral and aloof.

    You do nothing but listen.

    This was how my day seemed to unfold reading cover to cover of The Fixed Stars. It was mesmerizing, absorbing and thoughtful. It needed a bottle of wine.

  10. Katie Stroble Katie Stroble says:

    While perusing goodreads reviews of this book before I started it, I found a review that compared this book to a friend showing up to your house with a bottle of whisky, ready to spill all the dirt on how and why her marriage ended. And in a way, I completely agree. Molly writes in a way that is totally candid, and feels as though I'm listening to my best friend fill me in on her life and her emotions. It felt deeply personal and raw and trusting - Molly held nothing back, not the good, not the bad, and definitely not the ugly. And for that I appreciated her.

    But at the same time, that review of the book does it a disservice, because this was so much more than a steamy tell all brimming with salacious and gossipy details. It was an exploration of gender and sex and sexuality and how we express these things and what they mean, and how they differ from person to person. It was filled with snippets from writers who have written about these topics and from scientists who have studied it, And it opened up my eyes to the fluidity of feminine sexuality and how, regardless of how you categorize yourself, it is a deeply personal endeavor and there are no wrong answers.

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