Laura Bush eloquently open on losses, regrets, life
By Tim Rutten
Los Angeles Times
Part of what makes former first lady Laura Bush's engrossing memoir "Spoken From the Heart" memorable is its portrait of her marriage to George W. Bush. Whatever one thinks of his presidency, anyone who reads this rather remarkable book will count him fortunate in his marriage.
One of Laura Bush's best qualities as a memoirist is her ability to speak the language of feelings without recourse to cant or psychobabble. Partly, that may reflect her roots in the hardscrabble West Texas oil country where she grew up. Partly, it probably reflects her reading and appreciation of great literature, something that surfaces here again and again. She was, after all, the bookish only child of a doting father and bookish mother, and would go on to become a teacher of inner-city children and, later, a librarian trained at the University of Texas.
The former first lady has written two memoirs in this beautifully written book. The more compelling of the two concerns her girlhood in Midland, Texas, and her life up until her husband decided to run for president, a decision she signed onto with some reluctance.
One theme that does unite both sections is the author's acute appreciation for the reality of loss in all our lives. As a high school girl, she was inattentive while driving on a dark road and struck another car, killing the driver — a longtime friend and classmate. The event would haunt her and make her reluctant to drive any distance for years to come. Later, as a mother who married relatively late in life, she bore her husband twin girls upon whom they obviously dote, but she regretted never being able to conceive more children, particularly the son she suspects her husband would like to have had, though he never complained.
As first lady, she sometimes would roam the White House, thinking of all the presidential children who had sickened and even died there. She was in the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's office when terrorists flew the planes into the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001, and, at first, thought the Massachusetts Democrat's insistence on continuing their conversation while the images streamed across the television screen was odd. Then she wondered whether he was carrying on to keep her from breaking into tears; then finally she concludes that this insistence on normalcy was the reflex of a man whose life had been so marked by loss and tragedy. (In his own memoir, Kennedy recalled the occasion for the first lady's grace and poise in the face of tragedy.)
Some of the most intriguing parts of this memoir involved Laura Bush's views on race and her experience teaching in inner-city schools in Houston and Dallas. Her ability to describe her relationship with the pupils is empathetic and free of condescension.
So, too, her views on growing up in segregated Midland and her shame over attending a whites-only high school named after Robert E. Lee.
As an undergraduate at SMU, proud of its integrated football team, she recounts finally finding the "vocabulary" to express her objection, which was that Lee's choice of his duty to Virginia over the moral imperative of abolition was unacceptable.