The remarkable trajectory of Shania Twain’s life could provide fodder for dozens of Lifetime Network movies. Eileen Twain grew up dirt poor in a northern Ontario household riven by domestic violence; she paid her musical dues in crappy Timmins bars, then cared for her siblings after her parents were killed in a car crash. A Nashville record deal led to marriage to Mutt Lange, a big-time producer who helped pave her way to international stardom. In 2008, she was thrust into the tabloid glare when Lange left her for his long-time assistant and Twain’s close friend, Marie-Anne Thiébaud. Then, a fairy-tale twist: Twain finds solace, and later, love, with Marie-Anne’s ex-husband, Frédéric Thiébaud, whom she married this year.
Yet what makes Twain’s new memoir riveting is not events per se but her engaging, nuanced retelling of them. She’s a natural storyteller. The depiction of her early years portrays poverty in heart-wrenching details: subsisting on mustard sandwiches, longing to belong to a “roast beef” family with order and security. Twain insightfully details the complex dynamics of family dysfunction. Even after watching in horror as her father almost kills her mother, she still loves him and recognizes the cycle of violence that her parents can’t seem to escape.
Her musical education is charmingly and vividly depicted: wanting to sing harmonies with Karen Carpenter; peeing her pants before singing at a school performance. As her success grows, the texture of the telling diminishes slightly. By the time Twain recounts her devastating marital breakup, the rendering is almost generic, obviously to protect her son. She is discreet when discussing Lange, blaming the betrayal on the other woman.
Over the 400 pages, Shania Twain emerges a smart, tenacious, highly likeable person destined to shine in her new reality show on Oprah’s network. That could explain the book’s odd ending, in which the slender superstar discusses body image and cheerfully admits to stomach cellulite. Shania Twain’s no fool. Expect her star to rise again.