Beth Ann Fennelly was right to subtitle Heating & Cooling a collection of “micro-memoirs,” for this book of just a little more than 100 pages is small enough to fit into a reader’s back pocket. Some of the memoirs are extremely short — for instance, “Married Love, IV,” which reads in its entirety: “Morning: bought a bag of frozen peas to numb my husband’s sore testicles after his vasectomy. Evening: added thawed peas to our carbonara.” This particular piece is fairly representative. Slightly risqué, it reveals an intimacy between the author and her subject, but with a decidedly comic note that defuses any sense of personal betrayal the person being discussed might feel.
In addition to writing a great deal about her husband, Fennelly also has quite a bit to say about her daughter, her worrying mother, her largely indifferent late father, childhood, college and graduate school, and Catholicism. In fact, throughout Heating & Cooling, Fennelly presents herself as a fairly typical — if especially smart and funny — modern suburban wife. You would hardly know she is poet laureate of Mississippi, one of the poorest and most conservative states in the country; as someone who wrestled for seven years with the cultural mores of life in a Deep South state, I missed hearing about the political edginess that surely must be part of Fennelly’s daily reality.
However, that’s a minor quibble. It’s hard not to laugh along with a writer who titles a piece about how tired she is of singing “Row, row, row your boat” to her kids “Mommy Wants a Glass of Chardonnay.” Or who, in another of the “Married Love” series, admits: “There will come a day — let it be many years from now — when our kids realize no married couple ever needed to retreat at high noon behind their locked bedroom door to discuss taxes.” Page after page, Fennelly similarly hits her mark. She is so charming — not to mention concise — that one can’t help but be drawn into her quirky and ultimately life-affirming world.