Elevate Difference

Made for You and Me: Going West, Going Broke and Finding Home

I’m sharing this book with everyone I know. Caitlin Shetterly’s Made for You and Me: Going West, Going Broke and Finding Home is a strong memoir about a young couple going broke in the recession and it gives readers the satisfying feeling of walking around someone else’s shoes for 250 pages. We’re all connected by some basic humanity and a good memoir reinforces this connection as we don the cloak of another with ease.

Caitlin Shetterly’s Made for You and Me doesn’t simply resonate for us at the level of humanity. It is us. Within the first few pages I learned we are the same age and as she discussed her career moves, life plans and even the love of her pets, I felt we were kindred spirits. Though this may be true, I must attribute this to Shetterly’s writing style more so than the potential that we are long lost siblings. One key element she mentions after a few lengthy tales of her family pets is that writers often neglect the importance of pets in a tale, or even in a life. She refuses to subscribe to this and keeps her promise throughout the tale by consistently accounting for the pets’ needs and whereabouts at every step of their journey.

The pets aren’t the whole story, however. Caitlin Shetterly and her husband Dan Davis struggle through mid-thirties job searches, the want for something more, and the need for some basic success amid an economic recession that brings it all to a screeching halt. The pair is an example of the hidden layers beneath the CNN-drafted economic tag lines and phrases pundits regurgitate at us daily. They are the living, breathing case that represents us.

What’s so endearing about this book is that not only do you recognize the story and eagerly peel back its layers, but you also come to feel the very real emotional stresses that television news stories are leaving out. Particularly moving in Shetterly’s storytelling is her ability to frame her husband through the nuanced lens of gender expectations. These two critically educated people know that they’re held to ideological gender standards and in many places in their lives seem to balk at the hegemonic practices that secure them. Yet, Shetterly’s descriptions of her husband’s transformation strikes at the very core of how masculinity is a powerful framing force that deeply impacts the psyche of men and women alike.

You feel for both of them, but what’s moving the story is the way her gentle, honest tone captures the nuance we need to see in order to understand this is us, this is how we plan our lives, this is what we want for ourselves.

Shetterly frames the story around my childhood favorite, the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, Little House on the Prairie. Little House’s Manifest Destiny, coupled with the lyrics of “This Land is Your Land,” act as a critique woven throughout the story of their financial struggle, and her tale becomes a memoir with more take-away meaning than most. The mirror she holds up to us reminds us that the American Dream is complex, and that the drive within you has as much potential as a Horatio Alger success story as well as the potential to break you with exhaustion, crisis, trepidation and economics. It is this paradox that is particularly comforting and engaging about Shetterly’s story. Her recession tale sheds light on more than just a tough economy. We often argue that the ideology of capitalism and the American Dream have been disrupted, and we do not live in the world, economic or otherwise, that our parents or grandparents did. Shetterly’s work shows us that the resulting reality is complex and dynamic and many of us are struggling within it.

Basic ideas about family, support, goals, ambitions, and working hard are surely themes across the surface of Caitlin Shetterly’s Made for You and Me: Going West, Going Broke and Finding Home. But Shetterly also takes those themes and moves them from trite assumptions about how we are to live and packs them full of the struggle they cause us, inside and out, when we’re simply fighting for survival.

Written by: Dr. Julie E. Ferris, March 8th 2011