Sun, Dec 26, 2010 - Page 14 News List

A cynical position overcome with yoga

In ‘Poser,’ Claire Dederer does not pretend to have attained any deep profundity, but she does manage to renew herself and regain confidence

By Janet Maslin  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE, NEW YORK

POSER: MY LIFE IN TWENTY-THREE YOGA POSES

Why did Claire Dederer take up yoga? Short answer: For the same kinds of reasons that Elizabeth Gilbert changed her life in Eat, Pray, Love, and to much the same funny, charming, self-deprecating, stealthily inspirational and (quite possibly) best-selling effect.

Long answer: Because she lived in Seattle, “where rain was the sky’s lingua franca.” She felt bogged down at 31. She was married, had a young child and spent her time with other mothers, all of whom aspired to such oppressive virtue that the fear of child-rearing errors carried a whiff of existential gloom. “There was occasional pleasure, but it often consisted of the cessation of dread,” she writes. “It was as if by turning into a mother, I had also turned into Camus.”

In those days, she says, “goodness ruled me.” Goodness also ruled the neighborhood in which she, her husband and their daughter lived: Its version of a perilous-pet warning was “Please Be Mindful of Dog.”

She needed an escape. And yoga came with Seattle’s hip, holier-than-thou territory.

If Poser is to be believed, it also came in a step-by-step process that allowed Dederer to match sections of her memoir to specific yoga positions. This is a gimmicky structure that smacks of the ubiquitous stunt-book format with which Dederer is doubtless familiar. She herself is a book reviewer and writes freelance articles for assorted publications, from Yoga Journal to the New York Times. As she describes this work, “I had a nice little job that didn’t take me away from home.”

So she began investigating yoga. She started small, with a video. (“The blond woman gazed into the camera from her serene world, a place where potted orchids thrived.”) Even this was enough to teach her a lesson. (“Get a good teacher. Or at least a live one.”) So she went to her first yoga class despite her “longtime policy of never entering a structure adorned with Tibetan prayer flags.” Out came a fit blond teacher who looked to Dederer as if she ought to be named Jennifer. “I am Atosa,” the teacher said. “Like hell you are, sister,” Dederer silently replied.

POSER: MY LIFE IN TWENTY-THREE YOGA POSES

By Claire Dederer

332 pages

Farrar, Straus and Giroux


The world is full of yoga books, including two histories of yoga in the US that have been published in recent months: The Subtle Body and the much better Great Oom.

Did Dederer really need to write another? And did she need to approach yoga from a relatively cynical point of view, using phrases like “I got ready for the bossing” and “quietude on the hoof”? In fact she did, if only for personal reasons, not least of which is that this appealing writer’s first book is long overdue. It’s clear from the start that she will be transformed and find a sensible, spiritual nonsappy way to become a devotee before Poser is over.

Poser is both memoir and introductory yoga guide. And Dederer’s life has been varied enough to generate many different installments. Her childhood was wild enough to support five different “child’s pose” chapters, thanks to an unorthodox, very 1970s family situation. She remembers her parents’ marriage as solid until the day her hippie mother took her to a pig roast, disappeared into a tent and later introduced her daughter to the tent’s occupant: “Honey, this is Larry. He’s our host.” Larry became a de facto family member. The parents stayed married for decades, Larry notwithstanding. Dederer suggests that her own 1950s approach to domesticity was a direct result of her mother’s flight from conventional family life.

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