The short version of This is Not My Life (which is, in fact, writer Schomperlen’s life over a period of several years) is intriguing from the start: how does a Governor-General’s Award-winning Canadian novelist end up in a long-term relationship with a convicted murderer serving a life sentence? But when you strip away some of the descriptors and realize that award-winning writers and convicted murderers are basically just human beings, it becomes a more common and recognizable situation: what happens when two people with extremely different backgrounds and life experiences fall in love? Can that gap ever be bridged?
It’s not a spoiler to say that Schoemperlen’s answer to that question is “no,” and that this memoir of her several-years-long relationship with the man she calls “Shane” is raw, difficult and sometimes painful to read. She and Shane met while she was volunteering at a charity where he was working on a prison work release program. Despite their differences, they were attracted to each other and Schoemperlen began the surreal experience of life as a prisoner’s girlfriend, the relationship unfolding through phone calls, letters, supervised chats in the prison visiting room and eventually overnight stays in a prison-provided trailer.
As Schoemperlen depicts her toothless, tattooed, tough-guy lover, it’s hard to imagine that this story could ever have a happy ending; we readers, like Schoemperlen’s real-life friends, are often shaking our heads going, “How could she not have seen that this was a disaster waiting to happen?” If there’s a takeaway lesson here it’s one that we all knew anyway: smart people can sometimes make very poor choices, especially when emotions and hormones are involved. There’s also a good bit of insight here into Canada’s corrections system and its often byzantine and illogical ways, but what I read for were the personal elements of the story, Schoemperlen’s honest and unflinching view of her own faults as well as Shane’s. A very well-written memoir.