Book Review: From This Moment On by Shania Twain
Shania Twain shot to fame on the country music charts in 1995 with her second album The Woman in Me. Her music was part of the new generation of 90s country, featuring such artists as Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, etc…, that would blend country and pop for a new sound. In her memoir Shani recounts her life from her childhood in the northern part of Ontario, Canada to her sudden fame to the heartbreaking realization that her husband was cheating on her with her best friend to her recovery and new life.
While other girls of the 90s were obsessed with The Spice Girls and Britney Spears, I fan girled out over Shania Twain. My family was a country music household to begin with, so getting my parents to be cool with me listening to pop was always a creative act. (I remember I got away with listening to Britney Spears by getting my mother to listen to Hit Me Baby One More Time and like it and then revealed that it was Britney Spears. I’ve always been a wily lady.) In any case, I needed to employ none of this trickery to listen to Shania. As country music she had the stamp of approval, plus my big brother had bought her cd. I was 8 years old when The Woman in Me came out, and I remember being completely blown away by “Any Man of Mine.” (Go watch the video. I can wait.) I was blown out of the water. Whereas most country I’d heard prior was all about love and heartbreak and cheating husbands, here was a woman saying loud and proud that she deserves to be treated right, dammit! Let’s just say it really appealed to the feminist inside me. When I found out she was from “the bush” of Canada and a poor family closely tied to Native culture, well, I was insanely curious, but Shania has always kept her private life private, so I was left to wonder. Needless to say, when I heard at the beginning of this year that Shania would be publishing a memoir, I pre-ordered it. I had to know more about this woman whose music so spoke to lonely little rural girl of the 90s.
Shania’s memoir is very different from any others I have read. She does not involve many storytelling tropes. She only quotes people twice in the entire book. She reflects a lot, similar to, perhaps, if you’ve ever had the chance to listen to an older relative think out loud about her life. It does not read like a story, but it does feel as if you were granted a couple hours of private access to one of the more private country stars.
The strongest part of the book is without a doubt when she is reflecting on her family and upbringing in Canada. It becomes abundantly clear that perhaps Shania’s reclusiveness has more to do with the fact that while she loved music she had no dreams of being a star. Her mother decided her daughter would be a star and pushed her into it.
Imagine what a burden that is for a young girl. I just wanted music, not necessarily a music career. But because I felt obligated by her dedication to me her singer, I never had the heart to consider anything else in life, even though I’d dreamed of maybe becoming a veterinarian. I also developed a passion for design and architecture that continues to this day. In fact, that’s probably what I would have pursued had my mother not been so forceful about music. (location 1634)
I find it fascinating how often famous people were pushed into that career path as a child. What makes parents do this? I remember when I was a kid I wanted to “be a star,” and my father sat me down and told me to think really hard about it, because I’d lose all privacy and normalcy. I gave up on the idea and decided to be a reclusive writer instead. So what makes other parents push their kids into it?
Well, it’s obvious Shania’s mother had an incredibly rough life. Her family was below the poverty line with young mouths to feed. Her mother’s relationship was abusive, and she struggled with depression.
The perpetual undertow of financial instability took its tool in other ways, as it usually does, compromising my parents’ love for each other at times and no doubt feeding my mother’s recurrent bouts of depression. (location 189)
Ah. I can only guess that Shania’s mother saw a chance for financial stability for her daughter’s future in her talent, pinpointing most of her life’s troubles on a lack of money. Funny how Shania then succeeded and went on to have similar problems simply on the opposite end of the financial spectrum.
The section of the book dealing with fame, recording, making music videos, etc… is frankly disappointing. Shania barely brushes the surface of what actually went on behind the scenes, instead focusing in on how drained and dissatisfied her newfound fame made her feel. Passages largely read like this:
I was starting to feel as if I’d lost my chops at life’s fundamentals—and I’d been someone who could survive on my own in a cabin in the woods with no running water or electricity in subzero temperatures and snow up to my butt. Now, with a skilled full-time staff at home to handle every domestic and personal chore for me, I felt…useless and inept. (location 4905)
An interesting reflection, no doubt, but I really wanted to know what happened during the, at the time controversial, “The Woman in Me” video shoot in Egypt, for example. Details like this combined with the reflections on the dissatisfaction of fame would have made for a more powerful book, in my opinion.
The last section of the book addresses Shania’s time off from music, the birth of her son Eja, and the dissolution of her marriage to music producer Mutt Lange. This part is hard to read, because it is so abundantly clear that those around her have used and abused Shania (her husband cheated on her with her best friend in Switzerland). This is a woman for whom for her whole life family and being in touch with nature have mattered to her far more than anything else, and yet these things seem to be denied her. It saddens me that the woman who sang such strong music has in fact spent most of her life trying to make other people happy. This memoir was written as a way to deal with the end of her marriage, and I hope that through it Shania has found some peace and starts listening to her heart about what she really values and needs. It is so evident in the last third of the book that she is trying to buy happiness with more and more property and perfectly built homes. If only there was some way for the peace and quiet loving singer/songwriters of the world to get their music to others without suffering from the entrapment of fame. Maybe the internet will help with that.
Overall, I found this to be a moving memoir, if a bit flawed. It meanders sometimes and skips over some things that fans would definitely want to know about, but it is an interesting insight into the mind and life of a famous country singer and gives an interesting look at the negative effects of fame, even if they aren’t as huge as drug overdoses.
4 out of 5 stars