February 22, 2024

At the coffee shop, Zambreno disagreed that people were very angry about the book. She seemed a little hurt, but was smiling. I thought I understood her being galled by the judgments as we angled our chairs around to avoid the worst of the sun. Zambreno has often been at least as intrigued in dissolving as appearing. Her books endlessly negotiate space for her influences versus descriptions of her own experience. Even in memoiristic passages, her voice is tangled with the voices of others. Zambreno gave birth to her first daughter in 2016, and her second daughter was born in the summer of 2020. Motherhood changed her writing. Certain roles were no longer available to her, so she had to find an approach that accommodated her circumstances. “The Light Room,” has an air of attrition as if a ghostly battery icon was being depleted. In the book, Zambreno’s feelings of precarity and insignificance manifest as spectral imagery. She is an apparition eroded by relentless work and ghostly with disregard. She struggles with immateriality when almost-baby is the realest thing about her. For mothers, the question is not very interesting. “Moms don’t know each other’s first names,” she said. Now that Zambreno’s children have scrambled into her work, the “I” feels different: calmer, more settled, perhaps more maternal. Zambreno now observes and documents her life’s shifting weather. The memoir aims for jottings that are thin, breakable, and already sliding off the page. The last section of “The Light Room,” unfolds in the third person and depicts a family living in Brooklyn in the coronavirus pandemic. The mother, who sometimes weeps “to the point of translucence,” cleans and worries, nags and calms, but the tone often feels impersonal.