Erica’s Pick of the Week: Bomb Shelter

Here is the thing you should know before you read Mary Laura Philpott’s Bomb Shelter: Love, Time, and Other Explosives: Everyone is FINE. Kids, parents, pets: they all make it through.

Normally, I am spoiler-averse, but the description of this book does not put one’s mind at ease, especially if, like me, one is prone to what ifs and worst-case scenarios.

A lifelong worrier, Philpott always kept an eye out for danger, a habit that only intensified when she became a parent. But she looked on the bright side, too, believing that as long as she cared enough, she could keep her loved ones safe.
Then, in the dark of one quiet, pre-dawn morning, she woke abruptly to a terrible sound—and found her teenage son unconscious on the floor. In the aftermath of a crisis that darkened her signature sunny spirit, she wondered: If this happened, what else could happen? And how do any of us keep going when we can’t know for sure what’s coming next?

It sounds pretty ominous, right? But rest assured, Philpott’s teenage son survives and lives a full, messy, very teenager-like life, and the result is this thoughtful, quirky, hopeful and hilarious memoir-in-essays. 

While her son’s illness is the bomb that detonates one winter morning, this is not a memoir of illness or recovery. Not really, anyway. It’s the story about what comes after the crisis – the panic, the altered plans, and eventually, the day-to-day stuff that creeps back in: cooking and carpooling and homework and rogue turtles. That’s what Bomb Shelter is about at its core: love and parenthood and the momentous, miraculous thing that is everyday life. It’s about learning how to navigate uncertainty in a way that doesn’t leave you clenching your jaw and white-knuckling your way through the world.

The topics in this collection are wide-ranging – illness, turtles, Covid, makeup mirrors, summer camps, and spatchcocking a turkey, to name a few, but they each return to the idea that life is simultaneously precious and nerve-wracking. There’s no getting around the intermingling of wonder and disaster, and Philpott doesn’t try to. Instead, she explores each topic with equal amounts of vulnerability and humor, in the warm, inviting voice of a dear friend. 

I devoured this book in two days, shaking with laughter, nodding with recognition, texting my friends that they, too, should read it, so that we could share the experience – and share our own experiences, too. For fans of essays, Bomb Shelter is the perfect blend of humor, heart, and candid observations about topics big and small.

Mary Laura Philpott
Photo: Heidi Ross

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