“The Sharp End of Life” by Diedre Wolownick
What’s it about?
If you follow my blog, you will know I love all things outdoor adventure. So, this week, I will be reviewing the book “The Sharp End of Life” by Diedre Wolownick.
The book covers an impressive amount of Wolownick’s life. The book begins by describing the start of her ascent of Yosemite’s El Capitan. She then backtracks to cover her Polish-speaking upbringing through to her retirement—all the vital aspects in her life that led to El Capitan.
At 66, she is the oldest woman to ascend Yosemite’s El Capitan. She is also a former college professor, a runner of several marathons, linguist, musician, and mother of two, including Alex Honnold, the most famous rock climber of our time.
But “The Sharp End of Life” is not a story about her famous son, although there is plenty of exciting reading material for Honnold fans. Instead, it is a story about a mother and her adventures, accomplishments and famous son. But, the book also covers her struggles to keep a full-time college professor career going while raising two children within the confines of a problematic and crumbling relationship.
Wolownick writes about raising her two kids and the circumstances that push those values in other directions. It is also about becoming a mother to older children by not reliving or explaining past events but just being present as a loving family member interested in being part of her children’s lives.
A good portion of the book recounts her relationship with her ex-husband while they are married and are raising their two children. Despite her career and athletic accomplishments detailed later in the book, this was the most exciting aspect of the story for me.
It was difficult to stomach her retelling of managing a household and working as a married team when one person lives a disengaged life. This tricky relationship began when the children were very young and continued through their divorce.
“It took me decades to absorb the fact that I had never been a part of my husband’s life. Little hints were thrown in my path over the years, but no normal person could have understood what they were. Even simple things like saying hello or goodbye were complicated or even frightening.”
Many people may view these descriptions as one-sided, and of course, it is a book about her side of the story, but the book is so detailed, it would not be easy to discount her experiences entirely.
After her relationship ends in divorce, the story takes an unexpected twist, but I won’t spoil it for you here. At this point, Wolownick stays focused. Her relationship with her children distanced, due to her busy schedule, and her kids’ starting lives on their own.
But, her warm side as a loving mother shines through as she understands Honnold’s climbing passion and accepts Alex’s decision to not return to college. She also begins to run, inspired by her daughter Stasia’s running accomplishments and her need to find sanity in a chaotic period in her life. She started running at 54.
Wolownick’s story continues, and you see the hints of a growing relationship with her children as they move into adulthood.
Although there is less information revealed about her daughter Stasia, I believe most readers pick up this book because she is the mother of Alex Honnold. Stasia is an accomplished athlete in her own right, but because she isn’t the catalyst for Wolownick to write her book, I’m okay with the focus more on Honnold’s life.
After retiring, Wolownick continues to run, including several marathons. She also asks Alex to take her to the indoor climbing gym where he trains. At this point in the story, you see her motherly instincts kick in again, as she wants to understand what he does for a living and his rock-climbing passion. Of course, to do this, she has to overcome her fear of heights. But as any mom would, she just wanted to relate to her son no matter the personal stress.
What did I think?
One of the most interesting aspects of reading this book for me was comparing and contrasting her viewpoint to Alex Honnold’s view in the movie “Free Solo” and his book, along with writer David Roberts, “Alone on the Wall”. You see two different perspectives that come full circle due to several differences between Wolownick and Honnold, including age, gender, family role and psychology.
For example, Wolownick describes how she picks up running later in life, a huge accomplishment for her at the time. After running her first mile, she says to Alex, “I just ran a mile with Juno (their dog)”. Alex simply shrugs and says, “Cool. If you can do one, then you can do one and a half”. Wolownick seems surprised by this response. However, this view comes full circle when in “Free Solo”, Alex hints that his mother was never fully satisfied with his performance level and could push harder to achieve greater things.
Also, when she describes her life after moving from New York to California, she admits to having no human relationships but filled her time with “other endeavors”.
“It would take a few painful, wrenching decades to reach the conclusion that I had no normal human relationship. I had filled the emptiness at home with other endeavors. Music, painting, languages, and so hadn’t noticed the lack.” If you’ve watched “Free Solo” you noticed Honnold also has some confinements when it comes to human connection. In the movie, he admits, “I had to teach myself to hug when I was like 23 or something.”
“The Sharp End of Life” is an engaging and warm story and filled my adventurous spirit while still engaging my sensitive side. As a reader, you won’t be surprised that the overachieving Wolownick has expertly grasped exceptional writing skills as well. It is an emotional story that is hard to handle at times but overall uplifting and motivating.
The most impressive aspect for me is knowing you can break through tough times no matter how long the challenging times last. Anyone can accomplish great things outside their comfort zone. Even if you are 66 years old, you can turn the page to a new chapter in your life and ascend the most iconic rock face of all time.
A book review is one essential step for any first-time or self-published author. If you need a book review, proofreading or editing, please reach out to me at https://rivetservice.com/contact-rivet-service/. We can discuss your specific writing style and what I can do to make your book ready to publish.
If you have an adventure, outdoor, non-fiction or memoir you would like to share with me, please email me. I’m always up for a new, adventurous read.