Tag Archives: Winter 100

A Furnace Fed on Stars:
Deborah Digges and the Double-Edged Poetics of Loss

photo by Star Black

by Timothy Walsh

There has never been anything quite like the poetry of Deborah Digges. Search all the labyrinthine byways of contemporary poetry, and you will not find anything to match the preternatural clairvoyance Digges can conjure in her poems. Searingly luminous, intensely lyrical, often oracular, her poetry is paradoxically both rooted in the modern world, yet somehow timeless. Many of her poems seem almost like translations of things written millennia ago, the legacy of lost civilizations. A strange, otherworldly light pulses through her work so that in her greatest poems—which are many—you have the uncanny feeling that the surface of creation has been momentarily peeled back, allowing a glimpse beyond.

Some of her better-known poems, like “Winter Barn,” are poems of hair-raising revelation—a distillation so potent, so rare and concentrated, that the reader is transported through the ladder of her couplets to an alternate sphere of consciousness, coloring our perceptions of ourselves and the natural world long afterward:

Sparrows sailed the barn’s doomed girth, forsaken,

therefore free. They lit on rafters crossing the west windows
that flared at sunset like a furnace fed on stars.

Other poems, like “Telling the Bees,” have an incantatory, oracular quality that builds a participatory incandescence in the reader, so that you feel palpably the state of mind of the poet. Still other poems, like “Broom,” manage to encapsulate an entire spiritual autobiography into a meditation on house and family by focusing on a plain, everyday object—in this case a broom, that tool by which we sweep away the detritus and clutter from our lives, renewing ourselves in the act of renewing our abodes.

Despite having won many prestigious awards—the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Prize, the Kingsley Tufts Prize, Guggenheim and NEA grants—Digges is still not as well known as she should be. Digges published four collections of poetry between 1986 and 2005—Vesper Sparrows (Atheneum, 1986), Late in the Millennium (Knopf, 1989), Rough Music (Knopf, 1995), and Trapeze (Knopf, 2005). Digges’s untimely death in April 2009—deemed an “apparent suicide” by the authorities—was followed by the posthumous publication of her final collection, The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart (Knopf, 2010). Here we find work of such visionary intensity, so supercharged with grief yet simultaneously lifted with an ecstatic, celebratory sense of wonder, that the best poems in this final collection truly represent the culmination of Digges’s genius. As Philip Schultz succinctly put it, “There is nothing like this book in our language.”

Now, ten years after the publication of that landmark collection, is an opportune moment to reexamine this final work of a poet who is arguably the most original and distinctive voice of the past fifty years.

As the “Editor’s Note” to The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart explains, most of the poems in the collection had been revised for publication in book form, with clean copies prepared by Digges. Other poems, though, still existed in multiple versions with marginal notes about possible revisions. At the time of her death, a few newer poems had not yet been added to Digges’s working table of contents, so it can’t be certain she would have included them.

For readers not already familiar with Digges, it would be impossible to read the first four poems in The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart and not realize you were in the presence of a great poet, a voice authentic as thunder, images stark and powerful as lightning strikes. It is a voice unapologetically rhapsodic, suffused with a supercharged, grief-haunted lyricism:

The wind blows
through the doors of my heart.
It scatters my sheet music
that climbs like waves from the piano, free of the keys.
Now the notes stripped, black butterflies,
flattened against the screens.
The wind through my heart
blows all my candles out.
In my heart and its rooms is dark and windy.
From the mantle smashes birds’ nests, teacups
full of stars as the wind winds round

The predominantly elegiac tone of the poems in The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart continues the pattern of Digges’s previous collection, Trapeze, where a majority of the poems center on loss and bereavement—the death of her father and—most pivotally—the death of Digges’s third husband, Franklin Loew, to cancer. The effect is far from morose, however—the impact of the poems going far beyond simple sadness, grief, or sorrow. Rather, the intensity of the bereavement becomes a vehicle granting access to a deepening perception of the fragile and evanescent beauties of this world as we pass through it.

The poems of loss in The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart assume an almost Olympian perspective, grief having transmogrified into something visionary, even ecstatic. For example, in the opening lines of “Haying,” the dense musicality and rough-hewn rhythms propel the progression of sharply etched images that, characteristically, return to the theme of loss and bereavement:

Scythe to root cut, rolled backwards into time,
the hut-round ricks lashed down four-square with linen
like bonneted and faceless women.
Timothy and bromegrass so lately harvested
for yield, tripoded, teddered in sunlight, brush-hogged.
And here on frozen ground, great bales of hay
hacked free, alfalfa, oats in clover woven, pitchforked
from truck beds for the horses.
We watched them for years, their grazing.
Heartbreaking now such symmetry,
which kept our earthly house
that you or I would ever cross the windrows
of a field ripe for the haying, one or the other lost

The pangs of loss intensify with an image of the poet fashioning a shroud made of harvested hay, following her beloved into the netherworld in order to be reunited:

I’d try on death to find you, gown made of grasses
harvest time, early, the loose hay drying in the mow,
or knit from stores of birdsfoot trifold . . .

Here—as elsewhere in Digges—the fractured syntax mirrors the fracture of loss. The poem culminates with a merging of the grasses and the grave, united by the dark and mysterious earth that dictates the life cycle of pasture grasses as well as the inexorable arc of our own lives:

I have lain down across such orchard grasses on your grave
smelling the deep that keeps you, tasting snow,
something gone out of me forbidden, beyond birdsong
or vision, mantle trivial worn by the living . . .

In the poem, the remembrance of idyllic times spent together in pastures and hayfields is juxtaposed with the present, death having claimed the beloved and exchanged “our earthly house” for a house of earth. Like so many of Digges’s poems, “Haying” blends an autumnal reverie with vividly remembered scenes rendered all the more sharply through the magnifying lens of loss. The consolation—poetically speaking—is that the shattering intensity of the bereavement becomes a catalyst for intensified vision which would not otherwise have been possible.

This pattern is even more powerfully rendered in “The Birthing,” which recounts a time when Digges and her husband—the former Dean of Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine—stopped en route to a formal banquet to help a cow struggling to give birth in a field—a “front leg presentation” that, without some intervention, would probably prove fatal to both mother and calf:

A fatal sign he said while rolling up the sleeves
of his dress shirt, and climbed the fence.
I watched him thrust his arms entire
into the yet-to-be, where I imagined holy sparrows scattering
in the hall of souls for his big mortal hands just to make way.
With his whole weight he pushed the calf back in the mother
and grasped the other leg tucked up like a closed wing
against the new one’s shoulder.
And found a way in the warm dark to bring both legs out
into the world together.

The cow gives birth to a bull calf in a “whoosh of blood and water.” Rubbing the calf dry with his tuxedo jacket and her green velvet cloak, they leave the calf suckling her mother, then—in an act of spontaneous and passionate joy—they make love in the car:

we huddled in the car.
And then made love toward eternity,
without a word drove slowly home. And loved some more.

This breathtakingly dramatic poem presents a primal scene of birth in an open field while the brooding presence of death hovers in the air like a dark angel. The compassionate intervention of the human couple saves the day, holding death at bay for the time being. The intensity of the experience overflows, almost involuntarily, into a passionate scene of lovemaking—the closeness of death and the miraculous birth precipitating a deeper awareness of the precariousness of life and of all human attachments.

The poem ends on a lovely, life-affirming note—but this joy, too, is bittersweet, tinged with the knowledge that you can only cheat death for so long. The entire poem is, in fact, a remembrance of a day long gone, colored by the stark, intervening fact of the husband’s tragic death, which accounts for the ceremoniously elegiac first lines of the poem: “Call out the names in the procession of the loved. / Call from the blood the ancestors here to bear witness . . .” The poem crystallizes all these powerful emotions into a single, elemental scene where dramatically opposed forces are suspended concentrically—birth and death, compassion and bereavement, joy and anguish. The principle tone may be elegiac, but the emotional palette is extremely complex.

Once again, the compensatory aspect of loss is the heightened realization of the hidden nature of things, including the fragile beauty of experiences that exist now only as memories. Seen through the lens of loss, the deepened significance that the remembered events acquire coalesces into the poem itself, an artifact that is at least a partial victory over the inexorable forces of death and decay, a temporary stay against the relentless onrushing of time.

In this way, Digges transmutes loss into higher awareness through the catalyst of the poem, an almost alchemical process that has been at the heart of literature since time immemorial. From The Odyssey to Paradise Lost, from The Epic of Gilgamesh to The Waste Land, loss has been perhaps the most omnipresent theme in poetry through the centuries, subsuming as it does an endless catalog of particularities.

Through all these works, the pivotal transaction involves a two-way thoroughfare whereby loss often paradoxically transforms into gain. In Wordsworth’s “Ode on Intimations of Immortality,” for instance—where the poet mourns the loss of childhood vision, with its heightened immediacy and direct emotional response to the splendors of nature—the compensatory aspect is the great Ode itself, which could not have been written by the younger person of pure and unsullied vision celebrated in the ode. It is the loss that grants the higher perspective, and the poem itself stands as the crowning testament to this process. This is the essential paradox of loss, its dual nature—the anguish and grief of loss become a catalyst for deeper vision that would not otherwise have been possible.

This dual nature of loss is a key to a full appreciation of Digges’s poetry, where loss is often the mainspring of the poem as well as its originating impulse. Many of Digges’s poems also contain, like Wordsworth’s Intimations Ode, remembrances of more idyllic times from her childhood, burnished days growing up on an apple orchard in Missouri, the sixth of ten children. As recounted in Digges’s poignant memoir, Fugitive Spring, this was no ordinary upbringing. Besides the apple orchard, her father also ran a cancer clinic. For the children, beekeeping, apple picking, and rural chores were the norm—as well as working at the clinic with cancer patients while attending to the legions of lab rats. Keenly observant of nature and of the cancer patients, many of them terminal, Digges’s early life intertwined the pastoral with the medical. Death was never far, nor was Eden. Whether dealing with lab rats injected with tumors or beehives overflowing with honey, Digges absorbed everything. All this filters up into the poems in subtle and not so subtle ways.

Also key to an understanding of Digges is noticing the focus on shelters, abodes, and dwelling places that runs through her writing and her life—the family’s sprawling Dutch Provincial house and their various barns and farm buildings, the fallout shelter her father builds for the family, the cancer clinic converted from a pre-Civil War estate, the innumerable bird nests that so fascinated Digges, and, later, the many, many houses where she lived after leaving Missouri. As she writes in “Broom,” “More than my sixteen rented houses and their eighty or so rooms / held up by stone or cinderblock foundations.” For Digges, the act of constructing and inhabiting a dwelling place, creating a shelter, becomes a bulwark against time, an antidote against loss, albeit a temporary one.

In this respect, the two “house” poems in Digges’s final collection are in many ways the culmination of her work. Like the cornerstones of twin arches, both “The House That Goes Dancing” and “The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart” take up this central imagery that runs through all of Digges’s work and bring it to a fitting apotheosis.

Both poems have to do with the destruction of houses, houses pulled off their foundations, dwelling places that break loose and careen self-destructively through the elements. For Digges, the destruction of a house is the central metaphor, image, and relic of loss, as the descriptions of abandoned houses and farms in her two memoirs testify.

There are also many premonitions of these two poems in Digges’s earlier poems, where descriptions of disintegrating structures—especially houses and barns—are strewn throughout. In “Guillotine Windows,” to take just one example, there is the central vision of “a house taken out to sea”:

See those young selves waving back at shore,
see them running, calling to you, as the walls of the house
break up, pulling from the foundation while the roof
slides sideways, gone, and the windows shatter

It is an arresting image of departed friends and family vanishing along with the house that used to shield them. The language is ceremonious, the mood autumnal and bittersweet.

“The House That Goes Dancing” is very different in mood, a brisk triple-time waltz that careens across the page:

Not always but sometimes when I put on some music
the house it goes dancing down through the yard
to cha-cha the willows or up into town
to tango the churches.
The neighbors, appalled, they call the police.
The dogcatcher chases my dogs up the street.

But this breezy waltz quickly modulates to a minor key:

love’s house she goes dancing her grief-stricken dance
for his unpacked suitcases, his detritus, his hair, his hairbrush,
his glasses, his letters, his toothbrush,
his closets of clothes where I crouch like a thief
when the house it goes dancing

The seemingly spritely idyll of the first lines turns even darker as the shadow of death further intrudes:

We are shaken and dragged, we are rattled
and whirled past the ending, his passing,
who waltz out of town,
all our mirrors well shattered, our china, our crystal,
our lightbulbs, our pictures have crashed from the walls.

This is a dance of dissolution, not of celebration, and yet it is that, too, in the characteristic double dance of loss: The destruction of the house, our human shelter, mirrors the death of the loved one, the body gone back to earth, with only scattered belongings and detritus left whirling. Yet the import of the poem—not directly stated—is this outpouring of love and grief, and it is through the poem that the full extent of this love is realized. The poem may be about death, dissolution, and loss, but the poem itself is a constructed edifice that counters the forces of dissolution it describes. It is in the act of constructing the poem, of building this shelter, of fabricating this house made of words, that redemption and recompense is found.

In “The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart,” there is a swirling, madcap dissolution of a house once again, but this time the association of the house as shelter and the body as the “house” of the soul is explicit:

The wind blows
through the doors of my heart.
It scatters my sheet music
that climbs like waves from the piano, free of the keys.
Now the notes stripped, black butterflies,
flattened against the screens.
The wind through my heart
blows all my candles out.
In my heart and its rooms is dark and windy.
From the mantle smashes birds’ nests, teacups
full of stars as the wind winds round

The wind careens through the rooms, and the house spins—rather like the tornado scene in The Wizard of Oz—but all the images register doubly since we read everything through a dual lens, reading simultaneously from the perspective of house-as-body and of body-as-house (two sides of the same coin, but not the same thing):

. . . the wind winds round,
a mist of sorts that rises and bends and blows
or is blown through my rooms of my heart
that shatters the windows,
rakes the bedsheets as though someone
had just made love. And my dresses
they are lifted like brides come to rest
on the bedstead, crucifixes,
dresses tangled in trees in the rooms
of my heart.

All this commotion and the tumble of images leads up to the poem’s pivotal statement: “It is not for me to say what is this wind / or how it came to blow through the rooms of my heart.” The irony here is that this poem does attempt to say what this wind is, to describe the ineffable source of inspiration by analogy through the medium of words, and it does succeed as much as words can, despite the denial.

Characteristically, this poem, too, modulates to a meditation on loss and mortality, but in this case there are no particular departed loved ones to lament, just the cold fact of death:

Wing after wing, through the rooms of the dead
the wind does not blow. Nor the basement, no wheezing,
no wind choking the cobwebs in our hair.

In the final lines, it becomes a poem of lament, of resignation—but also of defiance, demonstrating the dexterity of the poet to weave this complex analogy into something cogent and powerful despite our powerlessness to escape death. The poem escapes, and the lived moment, the heightened awareness captured in the poem, survives.

An earlier uncollected poem by Digges, “Enjoy the Wind Catcher,” can provide an illuminating context for “The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart.” Here is the poem in its entirety, as published in the August 1999 issue of The Cortland Review:

Enjoy the Wind Catcher

I died and came alive in a field after a rain.
I knew myself as song, as haunting,
a child’s dress hung like a scarecrow
in a garden, bright words painted on a banner.
My dogs ran out ahead of me across the fire grass,
the flats of rain tracking the sky.
This was my last life, my destiny
who called, “Enjoy the wind-catcher!”

It is a beautiful, enigmatic poem, somewhat uncharacteristically succinct for Digges, and with a puzzling final line. Why would her destiny call to her to enjoy “the wind-catcher”? A wind catcher is an architectural device—also called a wind tower or a wind scoop—for catching a breeze and channeling it through a building for ventilation and to cool the interior. They have been in use since ancient times. For Digges, it is also an apt image for the poet, sifting the wind for inspiration, capturing and channeling the winds. Significantly, this image also involves a built structure. “Enjoy the Wind Catcher” most likely recalls a day long before in Texas when Digges first started writing poetry on an impulse, inspired by Emerson’s essay “The Poet.” As described in Fugitive Spring, she was then living in Lubbock while her first husband, Charles, was training to be an Air Force pilot.

Now, with “The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart”—probably the last poem Digges ever wrote—this image comes full circle. Here, she literally becomes the wind catcher, the wind whirling through the capacious rooms of her heart.

When Deborah Digges climbed to the top of McGuirk Alumni Stadium at UMass Amherst, watched the Temple University women’s lacrosse team practicing on the green grass below, then plummeted to her death, she left no note. After investigating, the authorities deemed it an “apparent suicide,” though some, including one of Digges’s sons, questioned this at the time, since Digges often exercised at the stadium.

Digges left no note, but she did leave the manuscript of The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart on her desk. This collection had been slow to come together. About a year before her death, Digges met with her editor at Knopf, Deborah Garrison, to go over an early draft of the upcoming collection, then tentatively titled The Dance of the Seven Veils. As related by Garrison to me in private communications, their conversation was lively and productive, but Garrison told her plainly that she didn’t love the proposed title. Digges readily agreed. “I think the title poem has yet to be written,” Digges said, and they left it at that.

After her apparent suicide, her son Charles found the folder with the manuscript on her desk. He opened the folder, and there was a new first poem in the collection, “The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart.”

Ever since Digges’s “apparent suicide,” there has been a pronounced tendency for critics to sift through her poems and interpret them retroactively through the lens of her suicide. This is especially true of the last poem in her final collection, “Write a Book a Year.” With this poem, it is perhaps understandable, given the facts of Digges’s death and the poem’s arresting beginning:

Well the wild ride into the earth was thrilling,
really, scared as I was and torn and sore.
I say what other woman could have managed it?
My life before then
picking flowers against my destiny
what glance, what meeting,
who was watching, what we don’t know we know,
the hour we chose and we are chosen.
And suddenly the dead my mission,
the dark my mission.

This final poem of Digges’s last collection could indeed be read as a suicide note—but the editors, not Digges, chose this as the last poem for the collection, and “Write a Book a Year” was written at least two and a half years before her death (as confirmed by Garrison). It is certainly a fine poem, a strong poem, and a fitting poem to end the collection, but it is not a suicide note. On the contrary, the final lines of the poem are about rescue, rebirth, and reawakening:

We are pulled forward by our hair
to be anointed in the barren garden.
I want the dark back, the bloody well of it,
my face before the fire,
or lie alone on the cold stone and find a way
to sleep awhile, wake clear and wander.

The closing lines suggest rebirth through a cleansing ritual—new life, not death. The image of being “pulled forward by our hair” is especially striking, and in fact it recalls a formative childhood incident in Digges’s life. When she was eight, Digges fell through the ice on a pond where the children skated. As she wrote in Fugitive Spring:

The ice gave way under me . . . until it simply opened up like a door. I don’t remember being cold or afraid that I might die, but rather the way the sun looked from under the ice, like a dirty paper lantern over a weak bulb. . . . Each time I grabbed for a hold, the ice came off in my hands, as though the ladder I climbed were sinking, rung by rung.

Luckily, her father was nearby and crawled out on the ice on his belly:

He reached down into the hole and pulled me out by my hair. I had a little cold afterward, my mother would say, but that was all. In the spring we found my boots floating like small boats on the pond.

Similar references to hair and being pulled forward by the hair abound in Digges’s poetry. In “Write a Book a Year,” the movement is from an initial fall from the heights—a “wild ride,” if not necessarily a death leap—to a closing image of rescue, of being saved and resuscitated so that the speaker can “wake clear and wander.” The poem certainly has overtones of a death wish, but, if so, it is more of a katabasis, a descent to the underworld, as with Orpheus or Ishtar, both of whom return. In this sense, “Write A Book A Year” also reads like an extension of “Haying,” with its image of the poet’s descent to the underworld seeking the beloved.

There is another layer to the poem, though, that explains its otherwise puzzling title, and which at first seems out of sync with what’s being described. Like many of Digges’s poems, there is a pivot point midway through “Write a Book a Year.” Here, the pivot point is the enigmatic line, “He’d find me pounding out the hours”:

And suddenly the dead my mission
the dark my mission.
He’d find me pounding out the hours.
Spring is for women, spring clawing at our hearts.
We are pulled forward by our hair . . .

Though it provides the merest whiff of a context for the poem, this line is what pulls the whole thing together. The line describes the poet being found working late on her poems—probably by her husband, Frank—“pounding out the hours” as she painstakingly transcribes the midnight tremors into her art. (Elsewhere, Digges describes how the house would echo with the “banging of the typewriter” from her room.) Retroactively, we realize that the “death leap” described at the beginning of the poem is actually a description of the poet descending into the underworld, into the trance of creation, in order to fashion her poems.

In this sense, the title “Write a Book a Year” is ironic, especially since Digges came nowhere close to writing a book a year. This also accounts for the poem’s initially glib, slightly sarcastic tone—“Well the wild ride into the earth was thrilling”—as if to say that the poet’s descent into the underworld to excavate and retrieve these poems were an easy matter.

Fittingly, the poem ends with an image of fire: “I want the dark back, the bloody well of it/ my face before the fire.” For Digges, fire is complex, double-edged like the theme of loss. An earlier poem, “My Life’s Calling,” begins:

My life’s calling, setting fires.
Here in a hearth so huge
I can stand inside and shove
the wood around with my
bare hands . . .

The main import here is of the poet’s vocation as an incendiary act. The poet sets fires, destroying our quotidian equivocations and our bland confidence that we actually understand the facts of our existence and the world we live in as it whirls through space.

But, like loss, fire has a dual nature. Fire destroys, but when harnessed it gives light and warmth. The same fire you cook with can also burn your house down. Fire is destruction and loss; fire is boon and blessing. Both are true.

It is the same way with loss. Loss is negation, death, dissolution, yet loss can also be life-giving, the warmth generated in its aftermath capable of fueling new creation that would otherwise not have been possible. Just as with the antithetical nature of fire, embracing contradictory opposites, the theme of loss that runs through Digges’s poetry cuts two ways.

And it is the countermotion of poetic creation that reveals the full dual nature of loss: Ourselves and our shelters will decay into nothing, but we can spin a saving chrysalis out of thin air that enlarges our awareness so we can perhaps see loss in a larger context, a more cosmic context, in which the coming and going of individual lives, flashing briefly like so many lightning bugs, is no longer cause for alarm.

Profound loss brings profound grief, which can trigger the compensatory creative act of writing, of constructing poems from the bric-a-brac of our lives, building them as shelters, as dwellings, as houses. Digges was a builder, like the birds and their nests that she so admired. Her poems can get under your skin like no others—the tone sometimes intimate and whispering, sometimes bardic and ceremonial. They pulse with a dangerous, seductive allure. Digges invites you in, ushers you in, knowing you, too, seek shelter: Poem as nest. Poem as a house we wander through, the poet a wind catcher.

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Rain Taxi Online Edition Winter 2020-2021 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2020-2021

The Collected Poetry and Prose of Lawrence Fixel

Lawrence Fixel
edited, with an introduction, by Gerald Fleming
Sixteen Rivers Press ($22)

by John Bradley

If there’s one line that best captures the spirit of Lawrence Fixel’s poetry and prose, it’s this one from “Truth, War, and the Dream-Game”: “The closer we look, the more massive the ambiguity.” Fixel (1917-2003) is best known for his prose poems, in particular his parables, which were often mysterious, paradoxical, and philosophical. (While Fixel tried to differentiate between his prose poems and parables, he confessed that the two really “shifted and narrowed” until they were indistinguishable.) Fixel’s Collected Poetry and Prose (a hefty 571 pages) firmly marks him as one of the most unique and accomplished practitioners of the prose poem.

Before discussing Fixel’s prose, the reader would do well to review a parable by Franz Kafka, a major influence on Fixels’ writing along with Borges, Kierkegaard, Brecht, and Heralictus. Kafka’s “Leopards in the Temple” can conveniently be found in the Collected (no translator is credited) as Fixel uses it as an epigraph to a poem with a near-identical title:

Leopards break into the temple and drink to the dregs what is in the sacrificial pitchers; this is repeated over and over again; finally it can be calculated in advance, and it becomes part of the ceremony.

If a parable is meant to be “a usually short fictitious story that illustrates a moral attitude or a religious principle,” as Merriam Webster says, Kafka, and subsequently Fixel, turn it on its head. In their hands, the parable becomes an instrument of creating uncertainty and ambiguity. As Fixel puts it, “The ancient and modern parable often involved the overthrow an expectation: the reversal of some deep-grounded assumption or explicit belief.” We come away from the parables of Kafka and Fixel more unsure of the world than before. Here’s the closing line of Fixel’s “The Leopards/The Temple”: “Is it any wonder then that—whatever we desire or fear—we can no longer tell whether a Leopard, a Unicorn, or the neighbor’s child is even now standing before the door?” This conclusion undermines even the identity of the leopards.

Fixel’s originality, however, stems not only from his use of ambiguity. His parables almost always utilize a number of sections, each with shifts in perspective. This constant shifting often feels dreamlike, as in his parable “The Career of Hands,” which consists of three parts. The first section seems to be rather mundane:

Seated at the desk, I wait with hands poised above the keys. Usually I get a signal, a clue on how to proceed. This time, however, only some vague suggestions, impossible to follow. My choice then to lower the hands and make contact is arbitrary, without direction. But for a while, just the sight of letters becoming words is reassuring. . . .

It appears that a writer, waiting for a “signal,” has yet to feel inspired, and yet the feel of the fingers on the keyboard offers some consolation. But, as in a dream, the setting shifts in section two:

. . . Under a shaped beam of light, I see the bench, the polished, curved wood of the piano. The stage is immense; the audience a silent, weighted mass. Coming forward, I resist the impulse toward panic and flight. Since I am here, I tell myself, my destination is also my destiny. Yet I cannot be sure whether I am worthy of the instrument, or whether I can perform the prescribed music. . . .

How quickly the writer has gone from reassured, in section one, to anxious. It seems the awareness of an audience has led to this anxiety. The third section makes an even more surprising leap, though the focus on hands continues:

. . . As I enter the crowded chapel, heads are turning, being raised toward the huge panorama on the ceiling. Bending back to look there, I find the familiar images of God and Adam somehow distorted, out of focus. . . . I turn then toward the walls, the curved arches that support the ceiling. What of the mason, the laborer, who put the stones in place? No clue as to what brings the urgent question. No possible answer. Above us the extended arms, the groping fingers continue to miss connection. . . .

The speaker seems to be in the Sistine Chapel, in this last section, looking at its most famous facet, though the image is “somehow distorted.” Rather than focusing on the artistic image of hands, the speaker wonders about the hands of the anonymous laborers who built the chapel. Though there’s “No possible answer” as to who these workers were, the answer is not necessary. For Fixel the question is all-important.

While Fixel’s work contains a strong sense of the absurd and a wry sense of humor, there is no real comparison with the prose poems of Russell Edson. They exchanged many letters, Gerald Fleming states in his introduction, and they must have enjoyed each other’s work. Edson’s prose, however, pushes absurdity to the fore, while in Fixel’s prose it lingers in the air.

Another writer who promoted the prose poem in the U.S. early on, along with Fixel and Edson, is Robert Bly. Fixel’s The Scale of Silence: Parables was his first major work, a chapbook published in 1970 by George Hitchcock, the editor of the celebrated poetry journal Kayak; Hitchcock also published Bly’s prose poem chapbook The Morning Glory that same year. Rooted in sensory detail, Bly’s poems offer metaphorical transformations, with associative leaps that seemed to gain power from the close observations. The leap from the caterpillars legs to “nine soft accordions,” for example, in his poem “A Caterpillar on the Desk,” makes a surprising comparison, and yet feels grounded in physical observation at the same time.

Fixel’s Collected may surprise readers who know him through his prose, as it offers over 130 pages of Fixel’s verse as well. The poems, much more concise than the prose, demonstrate Fixel’s versatility as a writer, yet display at the same his fondness for myth, paradox, and ambiguity, as can be seen in “Notes on a Doppelganger,” here in its entirety:

Mister it was you
whose face stalked through endless windows
in the city of bronze horsemen:
white hands and bony head
the gift of race and culture:
that privileged intensity
at home among the books—
while I ate bitter bread on dusty stairs.

The reader is not told where this event takes place, other than it’s a city with “bronze horsemen.” In a Fixel poem, whether in verse or prose, specifics drop away for the more important mythic situation to be limned. It’s the doppelganger that commands the speaker’s attention, this double who is fond of culture and who contrasts with the speaker located on the “dusty stairs,” and who apparently isn’t comfortable with privilege. And yet, the poem leaves the reader wondering if this “double” isn’t the other side of the speaker. The influence of Borges can be felt.

Like the parables, Fixel’s poems move “beyond the cage of reason.” It appears, however, that the poems came before the prose. One poem in this collection, “What the Wastebasket Tells,” was composed in 1940. In another poem dated 1954, “Assault on the White Frame House,” the prose voice can be heard emerging in the verse: “We sent a small force to isolate the garage / and reduce the strongpoint of their sandbox; / then with gophers encircled, we began / the frontal din of our synchronized watches.” This is only a short step away from the parable.

In addition to the prose and poems, the Collected features a section called “Words on Lawrence Fixel.” Short essays by Peter Johnson, Christina Fisher, David Lazar, Donald L. Soucy, Edward Mycue, Sharon Coleman, and Peter Money praise Fixel’s work and provide personal glimpses of the man and his workplace. One of the most insightful comments comes from Coleman’s “Parable, Parabola, Possible: On Lawrence Fixel,” where she states: “There’s never a lesson or a truth [in Fixel’s writing] but the dream of the pursuit of truth—and the questioning of the pursuit itself.” Any certainty only creates more possibilities and more questions for Fixel and his reader. While the essays on Fixel justly praise this talented writer, they raise a larger question: Why not use these pages of encomiums for excerpts from Fixel’s correspondence? Gerald Fleming mentions there are letters to “more than a hundred writers,” including Andrei Codrescu, Jack Gilbert, Michael Heller, Raymond Carver, Jack Marshall, Mary Randall, George Oppen, Laura Ulewicz, and Russell Edson. The reader can only hope that Fleming or another editor will soon publish a volume of Fixel’s correspondence.

The prose poem has become so popular, so ubiquitous, that it’s hard to remember a time when it was frowned upon by many editors. It’s also easy to forget who the pioneers of the prose poem were. Lawrence Fixel was one of those early practitioners, and as the Collected shows, his work still resonates decades after they were composed. With humor, with wonder, with paradox, Fixel’s parables seem ageless.

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Pandemic Reflections on Beyond Your Doorstep by Hal Borland

by John Toren

As Covid-19 forced us all to spend more time indoors last spring, I found myself drawn more than ever to simple, earthy prose. Homespun descriptions of rural life offered an effective counterweight to daily death tolls and the homicidal plotlines of standard streaming fare. I steered clear of the environmental harangues that are so common these days (important though they may be), and I also avoided narratives of wilderness adventure, which tend to focus on human endurance and close calls with disaster rather than the supple and harmonious interactions of living things.

Perhaps I'm isolating a narrow slice of experience here, but I had no trouble finding things to satisfy the need, from children's books (Selma Lagerlöf's The Wonderful Adventures of Nils Holgersson) to fiction (Jean Giono's Blue Boy) to reappraisals of agricultural history (James McGregor's Back to the Garden: Nature and the Mediterranean World from Prehistory to the Present) to memoir (Swedish entomologist Fredrik Sjoberg's wide-ranging essay The Fly Trap.) But the book that perhaps offered the most satisfying read was Hal Borland's Beyond Your Doorstep: A Handbook to the Country.

Alfred Knopf published the book back in 1962, but I spotted a pristine copy of the first edition just last summer at Beagle and Wolf Books, a small but well-stocked shop in Park Rapids, MN. The front endpaper carries an inscription to “Alice and Hamlet, from Plummer and Ida, Dec-25-1963,” written with a fountain pen in elegant cursive script that resembles my mother’s handwriting—and that of many other women of her time. Although by 1962 Knopf had been sold to Random House, the book is decorated with the same sort of wing-dings we find in earlier Knopf editions stretching from Sigurd Olson's canoeing essays back to the famous works of Wallace Stevens, Willa Cather, and Thomas Mann.

To judge from the lack of wear, I don’t think Alice and Hamlet ever got around to reading the book. Borland describes it in the foreword as a handbook rather than a field guide. His goal is “to indicate what to look for and where and when.” If he inspires the reader to move on to guide books for details, then Borland will consider his purpose to have been fulfilled.

Perhaps he was being modest, but such a précis fails to account for the intrinsic value—I’m tempted to say the “poetry”—of the prose itself, which draws on both the author’s vast knowledge of the natural world and his relaxed, slightly folksy New England tone. Though he wrote regularly for the New York Times, Borland spent much of the year on his farm in northwestern Connecticut.

Borland makes it clear early on that he knows the names of the trees, the bugs, and the fish, how they interrelate, and where they’re likely to be found. Excluding genuine wilderness from his purview, he focuses on phenomena that anyone in the eastern United States might easily come upon during a two-hour hike down a country road or fifteen minutes in a barn. To dip into any of the first six chapters, which range from “Pastures and Meadows” to “The Bog and the Swamp” and “Flowing Waters,” might be the next best thing to actually taking such a walk.

Come mid-April and the shadblow blooms in the riverside woods like tall spurts of shimmering white mist among the leafless trees. I first knew shadblow in the high mountains of southwestern Colorado, which simply proves how broad is the range of this cousin of the apple. But I knew it there as serviceberry. In the Northeast it gets the name shadblow or shadbush because it comes to blossom when the shad come up the streams to spawn—or did come when the streams were habitable for shad, not heavily polluted. It blossoms in tufts of small, white, long-petaled flowers before the leaves appear.

As an aside, the name “serviceberry” also has a New England derivation: The tree blooms in the spring at just the time when the ground has thawed enough to make it feasible to conduct funeral services and bury those who had died the previous winter.

At a few points later in the book, Borland’s attention veers off in less personal directions, as if his editor had told him, “Hal, you’ve got to write a chapter on the night sky. And how about one on foraging? And poisonous plants?” We don’t need to be told that the five major planets are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, for example. To his credit, in the section on foraging Borland describes quite a few edible plants, one after another, but doesn’t shrink from admitting that most of them taste terrible or are not worth the effort required to gather them.

The chapter on birds also seems a little weak, though it runs to twenty-eight pages. Borland clearly knows his birds; he mentions that in the course of a given summer he is sometimes able to distinguish between five individual Baltimore orioles on the basis of slight variations in their song. But he spends less times sharing his encounters with the warblers, vireos, flycatchers and raptors in the woods around his farm than assuring readers that birding isn't as hard as it may seem, and encouraging them to buy binoculars.

All the same, there are a few things to be learned or enjoyed on nearly every page of this welcoming and erudite ramble across the New England countryside. And near the end of the book, Borland draws upon all the lore he's been sharing to take us through a brief tour of the passing seasons, month by month. As a wrap-up, he devotes an entire chapter to the issue of common versus scientific names, and provides a long list of equivalents.

Shadblow? Serviceberry? We’re talking here about the Amalanchier canadensis.

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Prairie Architecture

Monica Barron
Golden Antelope Press ($15.95)

by Andy Harper

The first collection from a seasoned poet of place, Monica Barron’s Prairie Architecture is particularly good pandemic reading. To write the rural Missouri college town where Barron is a professor of English and to live in the era of distancing both call for the patterns of observation ingrained in the form and voice of these poems.

A distanced intimacy unites the collection, introduced by the speaker of the opening poem, who listens over coffee to

in the screen-porch playing cello
to a cornfield yellowing fast . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
the dogs covered in dust
that someone bellows for or maybe it’s to
out of anger that yellows his dried-up life.

Barron conjures the essayistic idler figure, listening from diners, fire pits, and hair salons, notebook at hand. This quiet intimacy resists the trite observation of small towns (that everyone knows everyone’s business), invoking instead an ethic of witness. Histories overheard in gas stations or at parties mobilize communal grieving, share warnings and fables of imperfect justice. In “Hunting Song,” the speaker muses,

If only the river had taken Audrey under
its mighty wing. She might never have shot
her husband in the kitchen after close.
The sign still says Audrey’s Place, but
how empty, how silent the place with her gone.

Barron makes of this roadside edifice an impromptu memorial, as she does elsewhere with a grain bin, an open field. In doing so, she acknowledges dual truths: that to belong to a place is to pass daily through these ghosts of history, and that their lessons are always contingent—legible more in hypotheticals than in certainties.

Prairie Architecture displays an appropriate nonchalance regarding structure, allowing us to slip with Barron into the comfort both of form and of a small Midwestern town without allowing repetition to stifle. Form remains loose, breaks down in improvisation, adaptation. “Meditation from West of the River” introduces a rule for repeated lines around stanza breaks—

Crossing the Mississippi late at night
I saw the ground fog rising to cover the road.

I saw the ground fog rising to cover the road
give way to frost. Say what you want about love

—then allows that rule to become lax:

I want to help you live, to finally find
the synapse that connects the heart and mind.

Whatever it is that connects the heart and mind
it’s at the mercy of memory.

Here again is Barron’s commitment to ambiguity. Here, too, and elsewhere, the author invites us into the process and prehistory of the poem. In some pieces, numbered segments mediate a range of historical and cognitive chronologies, charting how observation and meditation together mobilize meaning. Throughout, segmentation and circularity highlight patterns of life from small talk and travel to climate change and resource extraction.

This book is lucidly aware of its moment. In one of a handful of poems departing Kirksville for Barron’s annual trip to New Mexico, the speaker observes,

Before the border walls
there were mission walls.
At Tumacacori they crumbled
to Sonoran sand
and the fossilized pits
of Fr. Kino’s peaches.
Jesus replants the mission
orchard with the oldest
root stock he can find.

The double meaning that here collapses Christ with a farm worker plays throughout Prairie Architecture, but “Jesus in Three Movements” keenly renders the collection’s commitment to returning to our foundations—old walls of the past—to revive and reclaim an ethic of care with which to re-/build the psychic infrastructure our present moment demands. Near the end of the book, “Looking for Democrats in Novinger, MO” processes the 2016 election, offering gratitude to “older Black feminists” and Leonard Cohen, to old friends and “those younger who want our knowledge.”

Barron offers no blueprint for living through this pandemic; she not only tolerates but celebrates ambiguity and the constructed-ness of things. If these poems do offer any model, however, it is one for observing, for bearing witness, for gratitude and friendship. What we will do in these rural college towns is what we already do best: keep on caring for each other. This is the architecture of community and the politics of place.

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The Human Journey: An Interview with Micheline Aharonian Marcom

by Benjamin P. Davis

On July 23rd, 2020, The New York Times Magazine ran a story entitled “The Great Climate Migration Has Begun.” “Our model projects that migration will rise every year regardless of climate, but that the amount of migration increases substantially as the climate changes,” the team of authors write. “In the most extreme climate scenarios,” they continue, “more than 30 million migrants would head toward the U.S. border over the course of the next 30 years.” Politicians need to respond to both migrants and what causes their migration; journalists need to document and explain push and pull factors. But just what is the role of literature during these climatic and demographic changes?

Micheline Aharonian Marcom offers an answer in The New American (Simon & Schuster, $26), a novel that follows the epic story of Emilio, a Guatamalan-American who attempts to make his way back to California following his banal, but brutal, deportation. After we collaborated on a series about politics amidst the pandemic, I asked Marcom if we could discuss further writing amidst and about human journeys, dreams, and mixings. Our discussion is below.

Benjamin P. Davis: As Emilio begins his journey north, “he is too unsettled to read.” Writing is also difficult, including on his second day, when he “stares at the paper for a time.” Can you comment on the material conditions required to read and write, to receive and to tell stories?

Micheline Aharonian Marcom: For myself at least, the best conditions for reading and writing are a certain amount of quiet, and what I think of as “settledness”: I generally find it difficult to reflect deeply when I’m traveling, in particular if I feel anxious and, as I imagine Emilio felt while beginning the journey north, uncertain about what lies ahead—in his case what awaits him moment to moment in an unknown place and focused only on the journey itself and getting back home.

BPD: A theme of The New American is what each of us carries. You write about the journey north, “Each man, each woman, carries the reasons in their pocket.” A white stone is particularly important to Emilio—“The only thing Emilio now carries on this earth.” Later “he can’t help but think about what he does not carry because he lost it along the way.” You also use the Spanish verb meaning “to carry” when Emilio explains to Matilde what he asked of the stranger: “Intenté convencerle llevarnos a una parada de autobús.” Why does it matter what we carry and who is willing to carry us?

MAM: While doing research for The New American, I was often struck by what migrants and refugees determined to take with them and what they didn’t, and by what was lost along the way. It’s a risk to take valuables north because robbery on the migrant trail is rampant, and most people only take what they can carry in a small backpack. So what does one take? Many individuals take photographs of loved ones, religious objects—crosses, icons, and the like—pieces of paper with phone numbers of relatives, a few personal items, and extra clothes. Many such items have been found in the Sonoran Desert, where it is estimated that since 1999 over 3,000 migrants have died or disappeared while trying to cross over into the United States.

I’ve also been thinking quite a bit lately about how as people travel, and goods, mostly through trade, so do ideas: cultural, linguistic, and religious. This has always been true, if we look even cursorily at the ancient world where objects and knowledge were exchanged between Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, India, and of course the Hellenic world. There are countless examples of shared beliefs, knowledge, technology, and goods—not least of which is our very alphabet, which derives from the Ancient Greek in the eighth century BC, and came before that from Phoenecian traders who themselves had gotten it from a Canaanite script adapted from the Egyptian hieroglyphic. And of course, the Abrahamic religions come from Near East as well.

BPD: In a way, the story is about globalization, including the colonial relationships that are inherent in that term. “Countless items crisscross the earth’s surface,” Emilio reflects, “with more ease than ever in human history, including all of the things I am carrying today that were manufactured in China and purchased in northern Mexico and sit inside a blue bag on the back of a man who is only trying to get back home.” Why is it important to depict the details of globalization, the faces and days of those who live and suffer it—instead of simply observing a country’s GDP and official stories?

MAM: One of my favorite writers of the second half of the twentieth century is Danilo Kiš from the former Yugoslavia. Kiš’s mother was Orthodox Christian and his father was Jewish, and during World War II his father was arrested and taken to Auschwitz, where he perished, while Kiš and his mother and sister managed to avoid deportation and survive because they’d been baptized in the church. Much of Kiš’s work takes up stories of individuals, including several novels based on his father’s life, who are living through periods of historical upheaval and violence that catches them in its net, much like it did his family. In an interview Kiš once gave he said, “I believe that literature must correct History. . . . Literature corrects the indifference of historical data by replacing History’s lack of specificity with a specific individual.” For myself this capacity of literature, if not in some measure part of its duty, has been a guiding force in many of my novels. Kiš puts it another way in his masterpiece, A Tomb For Boris Davidovich, about the show trials, purges, and violence of 1930s Stalinist Russia: how literature is a kind of cenotaph for the missing and defeated, the silenced dead of history who have had no proper burial, whose names and existence have been elided or erased, and who might have a reckoning, a preservation, in letters. Only literature and storytelling consider the individual in this manner.

BPD: Page after page you return to questions of belief, a more abstract form of carrying: “I see the world in you and although I am still not a believer, I believe in you and the stony dark earth, the dome of the sky, the silent gibbous moon, in human determination and even in some kind of hopefulness that we might carry.” Why do you take a step back from hope itself here, instead invoking a qualified, “some kind of” hope?

MAM: I’m not sure that Emilio, in that instance, is taking a step back from hope, but if I am to parse it now, delineating the difference between what we might do as human beings, what we might choose: faith in god/the gods, in compassion, love, and hope even under the most difficult of circumstances, versus a fall into nihilism, avarice, selfishness and despair. These are perhaps old choices and part of an ongoing debate in philosophy and religions. For Emilio, who is not a believer in the specific “kind” of hope the Catholic church delineates, there is still the possibility present for a belief that comes through observing the beauty and grandeur of the natural world, through a witnessing of care between strangers as he does on the journey north, and through the experience of love he has with Matilde. In other words: having a religious outlook without necessarily being a believer of one specific sect or another.

BPD: Early on, Emilio wishes he believed in God, but he does not and therefore cannot pray. Late in the story he is honest about his struggles with faith—“I don’t know what I believe”—even when he leverages his Biblical knowledge in asking the stranger for help. Do you see the religious impulse, what the stranger calls his “sacred duty,” as a way into larger social struggles?

MAM: To this I can say the following: when I researched and wrote The New American, and during the intervening years of interviewing individuals in California who had made the journey north, one of the things that often struck me was the devotion and faith so many individuals had in God, in the Virgin, in Christ—and the concomitant capacity to find greater meaning in life and transcend the daily suffering and miseries which a purely material positivist understanding of the world does not permit. For me personally I can add that writing books has, over time, increased my sense of wonder and of the sublime—of the godhead at work in the world and in art. I don’t think for human beings there is any “outside” of religions and cults—isn’t modern capitalism religious in its views on “progress,” “growth” and expanding GDPs where greed has become an ethical imperative devoted to the calling of making money?

BPD: You portray a moving sex scene between Emilio and another migrant. The scene occurs in the wake of her being violated on the journey, and her stress around her physical and spiritual healing is part of what makes the scene emotive. There is hesitation in her voice, “anxiety filling it up like water does a glass.” Multiple times Emilio makes sure to wait for her consent after stating his desires. “I want to see you, feel your skin against mine, and she says okay.” I found this scene important because, despite overwhelming rates of domestic and intimate partner violence in this country, there is a dearth of literature on “co-surviving,” on what it means to have a relationship with another when one or more parties struggle with the weight of previous abuse. Thank you for addressing this. Would you like to comment on the scene, on where Emilio is at in this point of the story, or on how care and companionship can heal?

MAM: There is an old Marvin Gaye song where he sings something simple and beautiful about how loving “helps to relieve the mind, and it's good for us.” I think that erotic life has the capacity to give great pleasure, connection, ecstasy—and like Gaye sings in “Sexual Healing,” to be a “medicine” in that sense. Perhaps like all medicines, it can be curative or poison—depending on its use and users. I think the way Diotima explains it to Socrates in Plato’s Symposium remains true: In physical passion there must be devotion to the beloved for eros to be of a transcendent nature.

BPD: In ending The New American—the first ending, we might say—you address what stories can do, their strengths as compared to dates and statistics but also their limitations compared to movies. Why write a novel in a time when “no one reads books anymore”?

MAM: A good question! For one, I love books, and reading, and can’t imagine a meaningful or enjoyable life without them. And at the end of the day, and despite my own doubts at times, writing makes me happy. This book, however, is very different from others I’ve written, much more ‘driven’ by the plot as it moves forward in time—and in some ways unfolded in my imagination as a series of moving images.

And it goes without saying that books are not written only for the year they are published, but, if they endure, for the readers who have not even been born, or for their time of translation into another language and culture. There are so many books which I feel were written for me, even if they were made hundreds of years ago in Spanish, Ancient Greek, Armenian, or Japanese. As with every book I’ve undertaken, I wrote it because I felt an urgency to do so, because I wanted to inquire more deeply into its subject. Nothing else could keep me in my chair for the years it takes a book to find final form.

BPD: In many ways The New American is about dreams. It takes “a tragedy” for Emilio to change his major from economics to history and to pick up a minor in film studies. When I talk to my students, I am often surprised by an overwhelming pre-professionalism. Can stories shift dreams away from professional futures, corporate jobs that reproduce the push factors driving Emilio and so many others north? Would you count yourself among advocates reclaiming amateurism, the love (amare) of work that is behind that word?

MAM: The university has, as many before me have remarked, become a place of hyper-specialization, training for particular professions, and less one where students are expected to study deeply and broadly in multiple disciplines—history, languages, art, philosophy, math, and the natural sciences. While I’m sure there are benefits for students to prepare themselves for future careers—and who doesn’t want their students to find jobs after college?—there are losses: the biggest might be having less ability to see larger, cross-disciplinary patterns. The divides of disciplines themselves are an invention after all, one that inhibits an understanding of connections, of synthesis, of seeing what Baudelaire called “correspondences”—which seems to me one of the most interesting and exciting things about scholarship and study. One of the main pleasures of being alive, I think, is tied to the excitement of coming to know, and part of what I love about writing novels is that each one inquires into various things I’m curious about and would like to know better. I also think that the imagination ought to be appreciated as an important part of our acumen and intelligence—for how can we come to know something that is not yet known except by way of our imaginative capacity (by which I don’t mean fantasy)? How can we otherwise “see” beyond the visible world into the invisible and intelligible one?

BPD: In a beautiful reflection from June of this year, you inquired into how languages and fonts have travelled in relation to “larger migrations, connections, and hybridities.” At the end of The New American, you present “the boy who will be Mam and Chorotega, Spanish, and French. The mixing of blood on this land continues.” What is the status of mixing across your work?

MAM: I love all the beautiful mixing, hybridity, multiplicity, manifestations of culture, knowledge, and life—human and non-human. Notions of blood purity, like linguistic, cultural, or racial purity, are of course fictions, but ones that can become established ideology, as history teaches, can invade minds like a virus, and are often used to justify domination and conquest. That’s one of the reasons I love the novel: it’s like one big garbage bin, with room for everything including the detritus! As long as the pattern of the book, or form, can “hold” it together.

And I remain curious about all the many ways in which knowledge, technology, and stories have migrated and continue to migrate and metamorphose across space and time. Something as familiar, for example, as the fairy tale we know as “Cinderella” had early iterations in ancient Greece and China, can be found in the 1001 Nights in Arabic, later appears in 17th century Italy and France, was included in the Grimm brothers’ collection in Germany in the 1800s, and eventually became adapted as the Disney animated feature for children in 1950 that I watched in Los Angeles in the 1970s as a young girl.

BPD: A line stayed with me from your 2008 novel Draining the Sea, that “inside America there is always a story about Europe, just as inside freedom there is always a story about slavery.” Your work has cut across geography as much as it speaks to the highest ideals and the lowest practices in the history of this country. Can you say more about these stories within stories?

MAM: Perhaps it is that we human beings who possess language and for whom language, and story, are fundamental—to the creations of cultures, religions, histories, and nations—must remember that it is so. So much of what we “see” and think of as reality is a set of accepted ideas of an age, some of which alter in time, and then there are those stories that endure, that encode a longer-lasting wisdom and truth. As it says in the Yogavasistha, quoted by the great synthesizer and thinker Roberto Calasso in his book Ka, “The world is like the impression left by the telling of a story.”

BPD: You are the founder and creative director of the New American Story Project. That’s important. Can you tell our readers something about the work you are doing?

MAM: As I did research for The New American I sought, as I often do, to read or listen to stories of individuals who had had the experience of migrating across Mexico themselves. And while there was a certain amount of journalistic coverage, mostly via Mexican and Central American or Spanish language press, there was very little in the way of first-person recounting. For both personal reasons (my grandmother was a child refugee in Lebanon after the Armenian genocide and I wish that someone had at that time recorded her story and other refugees like her) and aesthetic ones (I am a great admirer of Svetlana Alexievich’s oral literature work), I came eventually to found the New American Story Project. NASP is an online digital project currently dedicated to recording the stories of unaccompanied minors from Central America. In addition to those stories, there are interviews with scholars, immigration attorneys, human rights activists, and others to give a greater context both historically and actually to the causes and realities of this modern-day refugee crisis on our southern border. I think of NASP as a “novel in voices”—a choral, multi-dimensional way to tell a complex, emergent story—and a living archive of testimony, data, and expert analysis.

BPD: I have been talking recently with friends who are writers and artists about what we do not say, what we leave out, in our work. Sometimes we wish we would have made our point more clearly, in plainer language. Other times we wish we would have had the courage to argue for the contrarian points we hold closer to us. And of course we almost never have the opportunity to speak back to our former selves and their critics. So I will give you that opportunity. Is there anything from your work you want to emphasize to close?

MAM: There are many things I think, opinions I have, points I want to make—but, at the risk of sounding coy: I know that the novels I write are not the place for them. Novels, as aesthetic works, require a certain discipline in that sense. In a way I always have to get my ego out of the way when writing to be in service to the story itself—its truths, its contradictions even, its ambiguities and paradox—and to do so without moralizing as much as I can. And then of course a book has a pattern, a coherence and unity, a final form that must be attended to for it to work as imaginative literature.

Over time I have come to understand that literature, again to quote Calasso, is never the product of a single subject but is always the product of three actors: “the hand that writes, the voice that speaks, the god who watches over and compels.”

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Faster: How a Jewish Driver, an American Heiress, and a Legendary Car Beat Hitler's Best

Neal Bascomb
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ($28)

by Samir Knego

In the world of motorsport, it's sometimes said that a particularly fast drive will “look slow.” Neal Bascomb mimics this in his writing as he takes the reader through a given lap; rather than emphasizing its speed, he breaks the lap down to focus on the details of the track, scenery, and driver action. After laying out each gear shift and swerve in painstaking detail, the impressive speed of the lap hits all the harder when Bascomb pans away and says it took just one minute, fifty-two seconds to complete.

Both thoroughly researched and packed with visceral action, Faster tells the story of René Dreyfus, Lucy Schnell, and the Delahaye 145—the Jewish driver, American heiress, and legendary car of the subtitle. Because they are all underdogs socially as well as technologically, Bascomb argues for the symbolic importance of their win against their Nazi-backed (and staffed) competitors.

Bascomb is interested in the power of stories and remembering, and he frames the book partly in reaction to the Nazi attempt to erase French racing history. Early on in the occupation of France, Nazi officers visited the Automobile Club de France archives and seized all the files. To the librarian, the Gestapo officer in charge said: “Go home and never return here, or you’ll be arrested. We will write the history now.”

To those who doubt the importance of race cars amidst the other events of pre-World War II Europe, Bascomb makes clear the rhetorical value of motorsport and wins. Even before having fully taken power in Germany, Hitler saw Grand Prix racing as key to the Nazi cause, both as a recruitment tool and as a proving ground for Aryan supremacy and the Nazi government. The Nazis funneled significant amounts of funding to German automakers, and for several years German teams were unbeatable in part because they were able to outspend other manufacturers by miles.

Led by team leader, funder, and occasional rally racer Lucy Schnell, the French Delahaye team attempted to challenge this status quo. The story reaches its climax with the 1938 Pau Grand Prix, where René Dreyfus won in the Delahaye, becoming the first driver and car to beat the Nazi-backed teams in several years. Going into this final chapter, the modern reader is as sure that Dreyfus will win as the German teams had been confident of winning in the preceding years. It should be a moment of triumph, but amidst the clear symbolic power of the Delahaye win there is an air of melancholy, since we know what is to come in Europe and beyond.

After the high of the decisive win at Pau, the Delahaye had another Grand Prix win before German cars swept the rest of the season. Bascomb notes that the Delahaye never really lived up to expectations; from a purely technical perspective, the story is one of failure, or at least mediocrity. But the larger story Bascomb tells is not one of engineering prowess, but of people and the symbols they hold dear.

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Rain Taxi Online Edition Winter 2020-2021 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2020-2021

We Ride Upon Sticks

Quan Barry
Pantheon ($26.95)

by Jaime Miller

In We Ride Upon Sticks, Quan Barry seamlessly fuses two topics that seemingly couldn’t be further apart: witchcraft and women’s field hockey. With her stunning characterization and a picture-perfect glimpse into the rivalry and friendship involved in high school sports, Barry pulls the reader right out of 2020 and pushes them into Danvers, Massachusetts, circa 1988.

One might assume that a hockey stick and a witch’s broom would have nothing in common; Barry proves that assumption very, very wrong. She constructs a playful “zero to hero” story about the team at Danvers High School, detailing the experiences of the players as they start dipping their toes into witchcraft, signing their names in a notebook that will supposedly help them get some wins. The narrative follows the team as they see how far the “magic” will take them if they keep pushing. From pulling fire alarms to beating cars with their hockey sticks, the girls grow more and more committed to keeping their magic—and their winning streak—alive.

Barry skillfully constructs distinct personalities for more than eleven different characters in this novel. Describing one of the team members, Barry says, “it was like she had constructed a wall to keep us out, a sunroom off the kitchen where she could sit and drink her Earl Grey in peace while the rest of us crowded around a plate of stale bagels in the breakfast nook.”

Barry’s experience playing on the 1989 Danvers High School women’s field hockey team proves to be invaluable for her novel; the bond between all eleven members of the women’s hockey team (featuring one boy) are perfect depictions of the love and rivalry that all teammates feel when playing a sport at a public high school. Bus rides are chances to have a “real honest-to-god talk, not Hollywood propaganda, not tonight-on-a-very-special-episode-of-agitprop” about sex and “Gatherings” were really just bonfires with some alcohol and dancing. Even though their Gatherings involve someone playing the role of priestess and the occasional Ouija board, the spirit of their meetups boils down to a typical high school party.

Even the magic elements of this novel have a very “high school” feel. The witchcraft begins with strips of a sweaty blue gym sock, a purple gel pen, and a notebook featuring a picture of Emilio Estevez on the cover. Living in a town so close to the home of the infamous Salem Witch Trials, it’s only natural that students at Danvers High School dabble in the dark arts, especially in the 1980s; by making witchcraft a playful, improvised, last-ditch effort of the team to win some games, Barry makes it believable and hilarious.

We Ride Upon Sticks, which seems like a funny little book about teenage witches, provides a useful glimpse into the depth of the relationships on sports teams and what public high school puts teenagers through. For anyone looking for a truly unique book that has them laughing throughout and tearing up by the end, Barry’s latest novel is the perfect read.

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Rain Taxi Online Edition Winter 2020-2021 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2020-2021

Wanting Everything:
The Collected Works

Gladys Hindmarch
edited by Deanna Fong & Karis Shearer
Talonbooks ($29.95)

by Patrick James Dunagan

For the past several decades, Vancouver British Columbia has played host to a lively poetry scene that in many ways mirrors the one 1500 kilometers down the Pacific coast in San Francisco. The beginnings of the Vancouver scene date back to the late 1950s, when recent University of California graduates Warren and Ellen Tallman began hosting informal gatherings in their home with Warren’s University of British Columbia students. This led directly to key developments, including the founding of the highly influential small press poetry magazine Tish (which was followed by a plethora of other Vancouver magazines and presses over the years) and the groundbreaking 1963 Vancouver Poetry Conference. Major poet-figures of the period such as Robert Creeley, Charles Olson, Philip Whalen, Robert Duncan, Robin Blaser, and Jack Spicer all made significant appearances—often staying with the Tallmans, who hosted infamous parties and used their home as a makeshift venue for events.

Since the earliest Vancouver gatherings, Gladys Hindmarch has been an active participant. Wanting Everything brings together both published and unpublished works along with several interviews and oral histories discussing the scene and memorable individuals involved, providing a remarkable testament to the vast extent her life has been intrinsically rooted within the local poetry community. As a student of Tallman’s, Hindmarch spent many afternoons at the Tallman home that stretched into evening dinners. While never officially an editor of Tish, she was nonetheless an integral contributor to the discussions from which it arose. Even if, as the editors here note, Warren Tallman felt that “the literary action that takes place in the domestic space of the house, involving Ellen Tallman and Hindmarch, is a kind of private history that doesn’t belong in print or the public record,” Hindmarch never took such judgment too much to heart and pragmatically continued pursuing her own writing, regardless of any lack of public acknowledgment by men in the literary circles through which she moved. As she says in an interview with the editors, “I’m drawn to poetry, because why else would I put up with those guys?”

Although Hindmarch’s relationship to the poetry scene is an intractable, central preoccupation, poetry per se is not a central concern of this book; poets as personalities, however, undoubtedly are. After all, Hindmarch is not herself a poet but rather a writer of fiction—yet her clipped prose reads as a poet’s might, focused on the immediacy of physical space and event, as in this passage from her linked short story collection The Watery Part of The World:

A mop next to my eye, wet, through the porthole from the fiddley, twirling. I get up, move to the side, stand next to the railing and watch, without saying anything. The mop moves to the side, quickly, back to the other side, then up and down, more slowly, retreating, a small circle, then in.

As the editors put it in their Introduction: “her location among poets is obvious. Hindmarch’s work embodies the notion of proprioception that was so central to the poetics of the TISH group and other experimental writing in the West Coast tradition. In her writing, ‘sensibility within the organism’ is revisited as a feminist stance that connects the experience of the body. . . with a keen observational reading of situations, the self, and others, played out in sentences carefully constructed and as rhythmic as verse.”

In Hindmarch’s writing, the body indeed takes a prominent role, both centering the text and seamlessly pivoting the reader’s attention to an awareness of the writer’s gender:

Up the ladder. Ocean air comes down and through my greasy uniform, slaps my face, neck, arms, chest, my belly as I near the opening. The salt air touches/surrounds all of me as I step out into it. I breathe deeply. Salt air in as ribs move out. I float at the bottom of this heavy ocean, glide along the blood-red floor. I want to merge with the real ocean, yellow and green, to fall into it. That’s too easy. Not at all. Stay here in air.

Childbirth, motherhood, and breast cancer all appear along with cooking, sex, and friendship. These are elemental forces at play in her life, yet they do not define her life and certainly do not define her writing.

In 1965, after a number of successful visits and events in Vancouver, Jack Spicer came under serious contention for a position at then newly founded Simon Fraser University. When he unexpectedly passed away at home in San Francisco, his close friend Robin Blaser, another significant figure in the San Francisco poetry scene, took his place, permanently relocating to Vancouver. Hindmarch stresses the impact Spicer and Blaser had upon her own work and the larger Canadian scene:

I would say that my stories, the boat stories which became The Watery Part of the World, and The Peter Stories would be affected by Jack; and then, to some extent, A Birth Account, where I just let those things come, in just like moments, and there was no revision (and he’s strongly against revision). . . I’d say he had probably a very healthy and strong effect on much of the writing here, and in Canadian poetry in general. So when people say, “It’s all Black Mountain,” I say, “No, you have to say Black Mountain and Jack Spicer.” And Robin Blaser, too, who came to teach up here.

Hindmarch’s body of work is remarkable not only for being one among many of consequence by the Vancouver figures who flourished during this period, but also for supplying an example of a largely untold backstory undergirding that scene. While a stellar creative achievement, it is also a lasting contribution to Women’s Studies as well as the broader cultural, social, and literary history of Vancouver and Canada writ large.

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Rain Taxi Online Edition Winter 2020-2021 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2020-2021

Words are the enemy of Writers: An Interview with Richard Kalich

by Brian Evenson

Richard Kalich has been a finalist for the Pen/Faulkner Award, a winner of the New American Award, and a nominee for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. His second novel, The Nihilesthete (Permanent Press, 1987) was declared “one of the most powerful books of the decade” by the San Francisco Chronicle. Narrated by a caseworker obsessed with a quadriplegic who becomes his ward—and whom he alternately tries to help realize his artistic ambitions and to destroy—it is the first book in Kalich’s Central Park West Trilogy, which also includes Charlie P (Green Integer, 2005) and Penthouse F (Green Integer, 2010), both of which take up the investigation of the relationship of life and art begun in The Nihilesthete. In Charlie P , which Sven Birkerts calls “delightfully dark, sardonic, playful,” the titular character decides he will be able to live forever by not living at all, by living only in his mind. Penthouse F ups the ante by including a character named Kalich, and the metafictional novel—which American Book Review called “akin to the best work of Paul Auster in terms of its readability without sacrificing its intelligence of experiment”—is about both his novel in progress and the death of two children in his apartment.

Kalich’s latest novel, The Assisted Living Facility Library (Green Integer, $19.95) is also about a character named Kalich (perhaps the same Kalich, perhaps not) as he simultaneously works on a novel about a young boy and his schizophrenic mother and prepares to go into an assisted living facility, a prospect which requires him to narrow his library to 100 books. In a blurb on the back, Brian Evenson calls it “experimental fiction at its best and most human”; I (perhaps the same Brian Evenson, perhaps not) interviewed Kalich to plumb this thought a little further.

Brian Evenson: You've published five novels. The last two in particular have a metafictional quality, and seem at times to be drawing on, or commenting on, your own life—Penthouse F for instance, has a writer named Richard Kalich in it, as does The Assisted Living Facility Library, which also incorporates photographs, letters, and emails from the actual Richard Kalich's life. What's your sense of the relationship of fiction to life, and how has it changed as you've moved forward in your career? Has exploring that relationship become more important to you as you've aged?

Richard Kalich: Fusing fiction and life has become one of my major concerns in recent fictions—but that statement deserves context. My first novel, The Zoo, was an allegory taking place in Animal World. Its concern was the loss of inner life in our human world and I dramatized this by having animals expressing inner life being zoo'd by the nefarious tyrant leader of Animal World. By the end of the narrative, hardly was there a bird left that soared much less flew; all animals knew their place and stayed on the ground or below.

Next came The Nihilesthete, where I depicted a man with no body, no mind, no language except a cat's meow, and showed this person to be an artist, possessing the most significant dimension humans can have, spiritual fecundity, and which I felt our world was fast losing. I paired my character, Brodski, against his arch enemy, Haberman, a dried up civil servant who never realized his existential possibilities and for whom Brodski serves as a mirror, revealing to him all he was not.

Eighteen years later I found the courage to write my next novel, Charlie P . That post-modern comedy represents my turning point as a novelist; my coming to grips with the limitations of language and traditional narrative ploys such as plot, coherence, continuity.

Penthouse F followed. Though the metaphoric image came to me the day I finished writing The Nihilesthete, I didn't find the courage to write the novel for another twenty years. Penthouse F allowed me to incorporate concerns that still obsess me today, and that, as you say, readers will find in The Assisted Living Facility Library. The fusion of art and life. Indeed, my narrator's name, Richard Kalich, demonstrates this unbending linkage in extremis. Penthouse F's central concern is how the Image has usurped the Word and in so doing has diminished our sense of self even further. The narrative shows Kalich unable to distinguish between the real and the images he sees on screen, of a boy and girl, and how he lives his life as a voyeur, in his mind—along with the attendant dangers of doing so.

In The Assisted Living Facility Library, I went even further, hardly distinguishing between character and narrator, both deemed Richard Kalich; I made every effort I could to show Kalich's life's concerns and the narrator's fictional concerns as one. His love of books, his constant questioning to understand and transcend his mind/body split. Why can he write so subversively, create such demonic characters, and yet only live his life timidly, bookishly, in his mind? Or, as his twin brother lambasts him almost daily, live only half a life. Approaching the end of the novel I had no idea how to end it—and then I had a dream, and fortunately I had the writer's instinct to follow the dream. The dream allowed me to achieve something that was heretofore existentially impossible. It allowed me not only to dramatize this author's most vulnerable and human side, but also to resolve and transcend my own mind/body split.

BE: One of the other impulses I see in your later fiction is a kind of stripping down. You have an ability to make the most of small gestures, to see what you can do without and still have a satisfying piece of fiction. I see that in David Markson's late work as well: a careful focus on details that most other writers might not even think to mention and a disregard for most of the things that people think fiction should do: plot, for instance. There's not a plot in the traditional sense in The Assisted Living Facility Library—or if there is, it's very attenuated. And yet we learn a great deal about this character through the very simple but humane act of him thinking about the things, books in particular, that surround him.

RK: Yes, I agree. And all that is designated by my mantra: “Words are the enemy of Writers.” Or perhaps more particularly in our life experience: Words have become the enemy of Writers.

BE: Can you talk a little more about that? Writers, of course, have to use words, which may mean that the act of writing always risks consorting with the enemy. How does one use words without being used by them? And what, as a writer, do you hope to use them for?

RK: In my youth, ages seventeen to twenty-two, I revered Thomas Mann. I must have read everything he wrote or that was written about him. And when I wrote my first novel at age twenty-six, it was only logical that I write it in the High German style that Mann had mastered. However, I had the proverbial “rude awakening” when my twin read my manuscript and said: “This is the worst piece of self-conscious, constipated shit I've ever read in my life.” It took another fourteen years for me to write my first published novel, and to write it in my own voice. With a sense of levity today, I can say I blame Thomas Mann for costing me all those years. But more honestly it was my nature—a near-fatal belief system that believed in the Absolute, raised The Word to the transcendent realm.

Once published, I commenced to repeat the phrase to all who would listen, mostly writer friends. Most scoffed, some smiled ironically, but had little or no idea what I meant.

As the years progressed, my use of words became less rather than more. Instead of obsessive modernist detail and the omniscient narrator, I turned to metafiction. I honed in on clarity, economy, precision, and accountability to not only myself, the writer, but first and foremost to the reader. My mantra became writing is dialogue, not monologue; communal sharing, not self-referential isolationism. I ceased with forced or even purposeful embellishment and poesy.

And now with the digital culture reigning supreme, the image supplanting The Word, Transcendence turning to Contingency, ontology itself (our self-world relationship) destabilized, the Self, interiority, and depth gone or at least attenuated, and without them concentration, books, deep thought, and literary culture fast sinking into oblivion, it seems I was right. Alas, I was right. And so I decided to use words rather than have words use me.

And yet all the above is not to say I love words less—if anything, I love them more. For now each and every word I say means precisely what I mean it to say, or as close to “precisely” as I can get, and I feel I've held up my end of the bargain with the reader, our social contract. More importantly, we both have a chance to communicate and understand each other.

BE: So many people seem to want to see writing as giving you something you can pluck out and use in another context. But if I understand you, you’re suggesting that writing is more like establishing a relationship with a reader.

RK: Yes. The way I understand it, the writer and reader are in the midst of an existential encounter, engaged and open to each other and words are their bridge to reach the other side—the Other Side being mutuality, dialogue, and as close to becoming One as they can get. The writer uses words to cross the bridge to the reader and the reader surrenders himself to those words to cross the bridge to the writer. If the words are chosen well enough, if the bridge is constructed soundly enough, reader and writer have a chance to meet.

BE: I read your books in the order they were published, coming on The Nihilesthete by accident in a little bookstore in Oklahoma in the late ’90s and then reading each book in turn as it came out. With the possible exception of The Zoo, I see all your books as talking to one another, as part of a larger conversation. Do you think reading Penthouse F is likely to change how readers view The Nihilesthete or that The Assisted Living Facility Library will shift a reader’s sense of Charlie P? To what extent is the task of each of your books to complicate our understanding of the books that came before?

RK: I agree, and I would add that the conversations are always a kind of ongoing inner dialogue between Kalich, the writer, and the actual Kalich. Or perhaps another way of viewing them is as a continuum. Since that first novel of mine you read, I've grown, matured, evolved intellectually—even to some small extent emotionally—and I've tried to dramatize these progressions in my various novels. Better yet, these progressions, this continuum, took the liberty of dramatizing itself.

But, still, how much do we really change? My guess is there is always a sense of powerlessness in the ongoing battle of this particular problematic man, Richard Kalich, towards individuation. And so, when past middle age and having tossed away so many years on a self-defeating romance as well as squandering them by not writing, by not living my life to the full, I wrote Charlie P, a novel about a man who lives his life by not living it. This novel shows humor, playfulness, levity, perspective, and distance; and it exhibits, both in form and content, a novelist experiencing a sense of jubilation for having finally set himself (as well as his character) free.

Next came Penthouse F—a novel I couldn't hold in or put off any longer when digital culture and the image were gaining such a foothold in our lives. But look closely and you will see my villainous character from The Nihilesthete, Haberman, transplanted to the author/character Richard Kalich, and who in this now screen-dominated world plays his comparable dastardly games with the boy and girl on screen. So, yes, though there are plot and thematic changes from novel to novel, at their core my books do talk to each other.

As to The Assisted Living Facility Library, my concern was to create an autofiction about my lifelong love of books and my just-as-lifelong terror of art and fear of judgement. But as I've spoken about this book earlier, all I’ll say here is that I hope that dream I had which gave me the ending to my novel is as much a surprise to the reader as it was to its author. Though buried and not to be seen, except possibly as a glimmer, in any of my other books, it’s been inside me; it's been there all the time.

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Rain Taxi Online Edition Winter 2020-2021 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2020-2021

The Girl from Widow Hills

Megan Miranda
Simon & Schuster ($26.99)

by Erin Lewenauer

Megan Miranda’s fourth novel for adults is another insightful, literary, and suspenseful mystery, inspired by the story of “Baby Jessica”: Jessica McClure Morales who fell into a well in Texas in 1987 at eighteen months and survived for the fifty-six hours it took to free her. In the novel, Arden Maynor was six when she was swept away by a rainstorm while sleepwalking; she clung to a storm drain and was found alive after three days by passerby Sean Coleman. It was a miracle, they said. Yet each anniversary brought new judgment and new pain—partly because Arden’s mother “was tragic until she was neglectful”—so Arden changed her name to Olivia and kept moving.

Now in her mid-twenties, Arden lives in shiny Central Valley, Kentucky, a place that “required more of an active process. It attracted a certain type of person, outdoorsy and weatherproof. Who would trade convenience for adventure. Stability for curiosity." She moved there with her boyfriend and liked the fresh-start feeling of the town, but recently she can’t help but think “that all of us were really only one degree from the start of a slide. Something that worms its way inside and refuses to release you. A simple thing at first, that you can’t ignore and can’t shake. Until it permeates everything. Until you can think only in terms of this one simple thing—its presence or its absence—driving you slowly mad.” Just before the twentieth anniversary of the defining incident in Arden’s childhood, she wakes up with the corpse of a man from her past at her feet. Detective Rigby is on the case, but it’s one that only Arden can solve, dredging up the ugly truth found in the past.

Megan Miranda is the master of asking what happens if one removes one’s self from one’s own story, of exploring the science of therapy and thumbing through the foggy past. Her regular readers will see shadows of women from her other books, but this plot, even more than the others, contains strong horror elements and a heroine with a shock of silver running through her soul. In this satisfyingly chilling read, Miranda once again envelops readers in dark glimpses of tortured interior lives. She crafts a story more about where you're from than where you're going, and how the truth can be slippery as rain. As Arden states, “you could hold two versions of the truth—and yourself—in your hand at the same time, and both could be completely real.”

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