Dorothy Rice earned her MFA in creative writing from UC Riverside, Palm Desert, when she turned 60. Gray is the New Black is a coming of age memoir for those of us who took a little longer than others to write it all down.
Rice discusses being a daughter, sister, mother, grandmother and wife with an unflinchingly honest and unquestionably relatable pen. Although I’m more than a decade her junior, I saw myself on the page over and over—often painfully so. But although Rice is merciless in her examination of her life, she is never whiney, self-pitying, or cruel. Rice details her pain with such a wry humor that her memoir was impossible to put down.
“I say rare, because usually uplifting people drive me nuts. I want to shake the senseless optimism right out of them.” (79)
As much about weight, body image, and marriage as growing out her hair, Gray is the New Black is an examination of choice, and a meditation on moving from passive to empowered—something I struggle with in real life as well.
I prefer to believe I made a choice, that I was done sinking so low for so little. Truth is, I don’t remember, and the fact that I don’t makes me suspect there was no final phone call, no opportunity for me to tell him no thanks, not anymore, not ever again. (167)
Rice returns to this theme over and over, as she processes how she gave away her power throughout her life. “I had agency. I chose not to use it. That’s on me.” (235)
But it was becoming a mother that helped Rice find her strength. “Having a child forced me to grow up, to find my backbone…Motherhood saved my life.” (215-216) This is something I related to as well—it wasn’t until I had a baby that I knew how determined I could be. But we also shared the same fears. “I do sometimes wonder if I transmitted the outsider gene to my kids.” (33) And that kinship I felt with Rice gave me empathy for her plight. I rooted for her every step along her journey.
It isn’t about reaching any destination or milestone. It’s about letting loose, cutting free, of whatever shackles have prevented me from diving into life, mind, body and spirit. Having my life matter, not because it’s perfect, but because it’s a gift, an opportunity. (222)
Rice’s destination at the end of the book is not the one she set out to achieve, but it is still a satisfying resolution. All in all, Gray is the New Black is a meditative examination of aging and finding our own voices.
Gray is the New Black by Dorothy Rice
Otis Books, 2019, 312 pages, $12.95 [paper] ISBN: 9789980243027
Lara Lillibridge is the author of Mama, Mama, Only Mama (Skyhorse, 2019), Girlish: Growing Up in a Lesbian Home (Skyhorse, 2018) and co-editor of the anthology, Feminine Divine: Voices of Power and Invisibility (Cynren Press, 2019).