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Originally published Saturday, January 1, 2011 at 7:05 PM

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Book review

'Poser': Yoga as metaphor for earnest young parents seeking to do right

A review of "Poser," Bainbridge Island author Claire Dederer's memoir. The author uses the discipline of yoga to illustrate the contortions earnest young parents engage in as they try to do the right thing. Dederer will discuss her book at several Seattle-area locations this month.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearances

Claire Dederer

The author of "Poser" will discuss her book at these area locations:

• At 3 p.m. Sunday Jan. 9 at the Eagle Harbor Book Co. on Bainbridge Island; free (206-842-5332 or www.eagleharborbooks.com).

• At 7 p.m. Monday Jan. 17 at Seattle's Elliott Bay Book Co.; free (206-624-6600 or www.elliottbaybook.com).

• At 7 p.m. Tuesday Jan. 18 at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park; free (206-366-3333 or www.thirdplacebooks.com).

• At 7 p.m. Jan. 26 at Ravenna Third Place Books; free (206-525-2347 or www.thirdplacebooks.com).

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'Poser: My life in twenty-three yoga poses'

by Claire Dederer

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 352 pp., $25

The best thing about Claire Dederer's book is that it's about her, not me.

Let me explain: Most contemporary memoirs turn into a kind of reflecting pond. An author's life shimmers before my eyes ... but even as I take it in, part of my brain is also congratulating or flagellating me as warranted by the inevitable comparisons.

"Poser" is different. It plucks a reader out of her own musings and deposits her neatly into the author's absorbing world. It's got the gravitational pull of a good novel and an unusually genuine voice that envelops the reader swiftly.

The book is set a decade ago, when Dederer was in her early 30s and starting her family, and yes, it must resonate differently for her cohort than for those (like me) who are beyond her vintage and outside her demographic. But I'm pretty sure all of us, regardless of age and adjectives, will be thoroughly caught up in her story, with little more than a glance toward our own reflections.

Early on she establishes the book's ubiquitous wit and honesty: "We were a generation of hollow-eyed women, chasing virtue. We, the mothers of North Seattle, were consumed with trying to do everything right."

This writer's skill is already proven. Dederer is an especially fine book reviewer and essayist (for Slate, The New York Times and others.) But writing personal narrative is very different, and can be undermined by years of less-personal subjects, with the inherent fact-finding and disembodied voice of newspaper-style fairness.

The best new memoirs still use the Mary McCarthy model: serious works that treat humor as a real emotion, not just snappy one-liners. Too many now are awash in whining and gut-spilling. (And the latter, as writer Fran Lebowitz warned us, is just what it sounds like.)

The spine of "Poser," so to speak, is Dederer's practice of yoga, a healing, yet often frustrating pastime taken up when her back rebelled against the strain of toting a sturdy baby around every day. As it healed her body, yoga also offered Dederer a way to confront her fears — specifically, those complicated worries about measuring up as a mother. Writing about yoga turns out to be an inspired way to explore motherhood and marriage; each comes with its own seemingly impossible stretches and poses.

If you're worried about being trapped in earnest thoughts about yoga-as-savior, don't be: "I sat there with my foot behind my head, like a moron. Who puts their foot behind their head?")

Dederer sparkles when introspection is ruthless — the result reads true and funny. Witness the day she is hellbent that her daughter (and herself) pass muster with the local day care co-op, an outfit with as many rules and judgments as a chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Dederer dons her Dansko clogs, "the official footgear of overeducated liberal moms." Daughter Lucy's outfit includes a hand-knit beret. "I didn't plan to tell anyone that I had not knitted it myself ... but its obvious handmadeness would imply that I was a craftsy type. It was quite a house of cards I was building with that knitted pink cap."

The lines that will stay with me, though, are these:

"I had a sudden thought: what if the opposite of good wasn't bad? What if the opposite of good was real?"

Now, there's a pose I want to learn.

And, yes, I'm back to thinking about myself. It was a lovely escape.

Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett is a writer living in Portland. She blogs at www.typelikethewind.com.

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