Review of Carolyn Howard-Johnson's Harkening - by Rolf Gompertz
Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered
by Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Published by AmErica House © 2002
is "harkening"? According
to the dictionary, harkening means:
to listen attentively; to give heed.
is what Carolyn Howard-Johnson has done.
She has harkened to the experiences of her life.
She has harkened to the individuals who have peopled her life.
She has harkened to her heart, mind, soul -- her inner voice.
And she wants us to harken, so that through her stories, we may
recognize their truth and find our truth in our own stories.
has written a most extraordinary book.
Collection of Stories Remembered is neither fact nor fiction, but
reality, her reality.
book," she explains in her Introduction, "is made from my own
memories and the harkenings of others.
I liken the process of recording them to a child who listens to
adult conversation with nuances that she doesn't quite understand; she
must fill out the meaning with her own experiences."
author asks, "Isn't a writer's truth more truthful than fact?"
She calls her stories, "creative nonfiction."
stories resonate within our own hearts with their truth.
They speak to us, even before we read them, by their titles
alone: Legacy, Mama's
Depression, The Message, Child's Play, Neighbors, Summerville, The
Music Lesson, What Isn't Lavender, Milk Glass, Portrait of Sisters,
Remembering Winter, Gunnison, Through a Window, Grandmother's Slip,
Ski School, House of Neglect, A Different Generation.
each one of us, Howard-Johnson wants to know how she came to be who she
is. She looks to past and
present relationships with various family members, going back
generations; to encounters with friends and strangers; to moments with
her husband, children and grandchildren.
author travels back and forth in time and place -- to Utah where she
was born and raised, to the Los Angeles area, where she lives now, and
to other places that have
figured in her life.
connected, each story also stands alone.
In each case, Howard-Johnson goes in search of the truth that
lies at the heart of some person, some encounter, some experience.
She uncovers layer upon layer and plummets secrets,
until she arrives at some precious gem of truth.
is a remarkable writer and a fine story-teller
Her stories are as simple as her language -- deceptively simple.
Every word has been carefully chosen and every story is a
polished gem. Some books
can be scanned, others can be devoured.
"Harkening" should be read word for word, sentence by
sentence, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter.
It should be read leisurely.
To do so is to rediscover the all but forgotten pleasure of reading.
writes with eloquent journalistic clarity, economy and simplicity.
She knows how to capture the essence of things in a few telling
"I must write this story because Mom-Bertie expects it of me.
It is not really my story. It
is not really my mother's either.
It is her mother's story.
And her mother before that.
In a way, it belongs to us all, though it may not even be
MESSAGE": "I learned
about life and death in another time, another place.
I remember it almost as vividly as if it were yesterday."
OF SISTERS": "A
generation is the great divide. There
was almost twenty years between Bertie and Trisha.
Bertie was married and gone from the house soon after the younger
sister was born. So when
Trisha found a Kraft-colored box while helping the older one clean out
closets, it was an opportunity for closing the gap."
WINTER": "Winters in
Utah can be bitter."
The Main Street of Gunnison is Highway 89.
It is still marked "Main Street" on the street signs and
"Highway 89" on the map but it is really no longer a main street and
certainly no longer a highway."
DIFFERENT GENERATION": "I
once said that I never wanted to live my mother's life.
Yet somehow I keep trying to do just that."
has an uncanny eye and ear for tell-tale facts, definitive feelings and
penetrating remarks. Like
an artist, selecting the right color, she finds the fitting word, the
striking image, the memorable phrase:
PLAY": "The mountain dominated the view from my window.
In the winter, I would peek out through the panes crusted with
sparkling white geometry against a sky the color of newsreel
MUSIC LESSON": "The
road to grandma's house wound like unspooled thread along the base of
Mount Olympus. It followed
the feminine contours of the foothills, jumped a creek when necessary,
ran a route that traced the boundaries of old farms and homesteads."
shirred wind sharpened my reaction, left my eyes bare to forgotten
children in the schoolyard looked like children from a remote decade.
No color. A black
and white film. The wind
blew their voices away from me."
A WINDOW": "Thoughts
move about, like the breeze in the room."
SCHOOL": "Her eyes
were both filmy and bright like star sapphires.
They looked as if they knew more now than when they could see.
Her body was like a snap bean, all the seeds and organs of life evident
under the skin."
is most extraordinary about HARKENING is that the author shows us
that the seemingly ordinary moments and events of our lives are anything
but ordinary. She shows us that they contain kernels of deep meaning and
profound truth -- if we allow them to speak to us, and if we will harken
with courage, honesty and love.
HARKENING: A Collection of Stories Remembered is a profoundly meaningful and enjoyable book written by a skilled, honest, extraordinary writer and story-teller.
Rolf Gompertz is the author of eight books, including, Abraham, The Dreamer/An Erotic and Sacred Love Story, a provocative, biblical novel about Abraham, his wife, Sarah, and "the other woman", Hagar. The paperback may be browsed and ordered at http://www.iUniverse.com , http://www.amazon.com , or ordered from iUniverse's toll free number 1/877/823-9235 or any bookstore. Mailto: email@example.com
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