Joy Enough by Sarah McColl


If you were writing a book about your mother dying just at the time your marriage was ending, it seems you wouldn’t use the word “joy” in the title. But joy, beauty, and pleasure somehow seep out of the book and I was happy as I read it.

The author lets out lovely–and difficult–bits about her life with her mother and about her husband. Episodes that are not told in chronological order tumble out so that you are not wondering “how this will turn out,” but instead circle around these people and their connections until they become clearer. What a great storyteller of her life she is.

Sarah McColl was founding editor-in-chief of Yahoo Food, so cooking is lovingly described. At a time when she had little money and was feeling lonely she began to feeling better when she roasted a chicken.

Cooking was a meditation, I thought. It anchored me in my body–here was my hand, holding a knife, slicing through celery. Here I was, standing on the black and white kitchen tile of my first apartment in Brooklyn, listening to records, making dinner. Here I was, I thought, living. It is a lot of meaning for a meal to bear, a habit I would not break.

She describes her time when her mother was sick and she arrived out in the countryside to feed her mother, to keep her alive by feeding her.

Another foody time she described was a visit made with a couple newly in love as she and her husband were falling out of love. They visited a long-time friend at Christmas in the Wisconsin countryside. The soup her friend made, the business of making grocery lists, and frying bacon and sausage were central. But I want to quote the description of the landscape, as it is close to the town where Jennifer lives.

When the last glacier moved through the Upper Midwest, it scraped off mountain tops and rounded topographical edges, leaving green hill states that gently fold and unfold. The wedge of land where Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and Iowa lean their backs against each other was bypassed, so what remains is the Driftless–an area that is bony shouldered and dramatic with craggy rock faces and blind valleys. Insoluble limestone mountain ranges rise suddenly from grassy prairies, dark on the near horizon like a declaration that takes everyone by surprise.

At the end of the book, when she had begun to recover from her difficult losses, she tells of a cross-country trip she made. She stopped at a Residence Inn for a swim and has an encounter with brothers who are three and five years old. It turns out they were both, she says, the age of not being afraid, and after she assures their mother it’s fine, they move in on her.

They touch me in an absentminded, easy way, not caring that I am a stranger. Davis arranges himself on my lap, and Owen strokes my wet hair. Suddenly they are my puppies, scaling my body with playful care, as if I am theirs. They want something from me, and whatever it is, I want to give it to them.

Sarah McColl, Joy Enough, Liveright Publishing, division of W.W. Norton, 2019, 164 pages. Available from the UVa and public libraries and from Amazon.



  • Mom, Sounds like this might be my kind of book! I love her description of the Driftless and the two brothers. Will have to check this one out. Love, Jen

    • Those two quotes were my favorites — the brothers as affectionate puppies and the four states leaning their backs against each other — I loved them! I bought this at a reading that was, oddly enough, at Market Street Wine.


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