ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — This advisory up front: Leigh Stein’s memoir “Land of Enchantment” is not a cheery travelogue about New Mexico.
True, the book shows Stein’s enduring love of the sky and the sun here, and her finding inspiration in Georgia O’Keeffe’s art, words and life.
But the title ironically refers to the state of enchantment 22-year-old Leigh and her teenage boyfriend, Jason, were in when they moved to an Albuquerque apartment from suburban Chicago.
Jason said New Mexico was a creative place so Leigh could write her novel and he would work to support them. Their relationship soon spiraled into a state of disenchantment.
Jason avoided facing his mental issues; Leigh took medicine for hers.
Leigh wrote off Jason’s physical and psychological abuse and often denied seeing herself as victim because she loved him so. They didn’t face up to their alcohol and drug binges.
Jason couldn’t hold down a job. So Leigh went to work. Her waitress salary and her dwindling savings paid the bills.
After six months in Albuquerque, they left and eventually split up. But Leigh was still haunted by her longing for/addiction to Jason.
The memoir also is about how the Internet has influenced young people in addressing issues of grief and mourning.
Jason, born on April 5, 1988, died on July 21, 2011. “With those set dates, I could build a calendar of anniversaries,” Leigh writes, “birthday, death day, day we met, day we moved, day we moved back, last morning I saw him. I could still remember the soft texture of his hair, even though he’d so rarely let me run my fingers through it.”
Leigh Stein has written a book that is extraordinary in its ability to reveal so much of herself —— before, during and after Jason, to compellingly present her life in a dew-fresh, candid writing style and to artfully juggle characters (family, friends, neighbors, co-workers) and subjects.
The book should be required reading. Young adults will easily see a part of themselves in Leigh and Jason’s passage. Older adults will better understand the ordeals of young people.
A published novelist (“The Fallback Plan”) and poet (“Dispatch From the Future”), Leigh is executive director of Out of the Binders, a nonprofit that advances the careers of women and gender-nonconforming writers through conferences.