“I wanted and wanted and couldn’t have told you for all the world what exactly I wanted. Yet it wrung me, on spin cycle. It was dreadful to be under the pull of such strong currents.”
This is a collection of stories that flow through the lives of the young and old alike. They are not warm and fuzzy but sweet within their dreadful sadness. What happens to people aren’t mind blowing explosions of thrills but the things that burden so many of us, or are waiting to. Of all the stories, I was most moved by Feeding Instructions. The slow decline of a loved one, the struggles caretakers face, and Mommaw (Myrtle) – how can you not feel tied to Mommaw? “When she was in motion, it was hard to stop her.” That line hit me with memories of an elderly man with alzheimer’s that I sometimes cared for back in my home health care days. Like Mommaw, when he had a mind to venture off, he would get to where he wanted no matter the barriers. We move with the days and memories, watching as the elderly make old motions to jobs they once did. “When you see something so familiar, so ingrained in them, surfacing like that at the end, it breaks your heart.” All the old motions that circle each of our lives, the loved ones we forget have died only to wake with a fuzzy memory to re-live that pain fresh because we have to be told all we’ve lost… this waits for many of us, this terrible forgetting. I sank into the bed with Mommaw, and I stood at her side as June too because we could so easily be both. We are strong for a time and we are fragile, life has seasons none of us can escape. You too will one day bruise easy to the touch, your mind might remain sharp as a tack, if you’re lucky, but you too will need to be reminded of things. Graley writes beautifully about Mommaw, it made me weepy. “You’ll see her mouth open- it’s like a shy baby bird’s mouth- innocent, trying it’s best, trying to please you. It’ll make you feel low. She opens her mouth because you’re upset, and some part of her is moved by that. Can you see the effort it takes? In those moments, you know, deep in your heart, she’s doing her best.” Watching a loved one slowly die, particularly when they are seemingly cursed with silence, unable to tell you what they need, somehow there is in those moments communion stronger than any words. I am not sure many young people will read the same story those of us ‘seasoned folk’ will. No matter, one day they will.
Marlie and her father Russell’s story Heartwood asks a lot of questions of a parent’s love. It doesn’t beat you over the head with right nor wrong, but it certainly begs the question ‘what is unconditional love’? If from no one else, in a perfect world we should have that for our children and maybe ourselves too. It’s quiet, but I caught my breath, not because the subject is shocking in this day but the struggle for Marlie and her father told during wood chopping is like a stone in the heart. How Marlie chose to confide in her father things she needs to, broke my heart, the feelers she puts out… his reaction… well it’s beautiful at the end. It is.
Without going into every story, from drownings, infatuation, hunger, dying… it’s here. I was moved by the little boy who is caught up in tragedy. How a life for another causes grieving people to overstep their place. “We don’t have the shine of the Shamblin set. But we’re not toothless and scraggly and lopsided neither.” I am much reminded of Flannery O’Connor’s writing.
“He was breathing hard, like panting. It was like an over-friendly dog, insistent on being rubbed, always nudging your hand even when you were ready to stop. Sometimes you just wanted the dog to lie there, wait for you to make up your mind to give it attention. You wanted to meet it on your own terms.” Oh my, what woman cannot laugh and cringe a bit at that writing about an overeager boy’s attentions? We lived it, didn’t we? In the pawing, the hungry boys that seemed to forget themselves, that forgot about our presence altogether and let their lust take over? The experiences Phoebe has with Seth, I can honestly say most women have been there at least once in her life. The cruel rejections a young girl faces for slowing things down are something true in any generation.
A beautiful collection, and certainly one that takes it’s time with you, like a summer evening. I found the telling engaging and the writing beautiful. I love southern fiction, just adore it. I don’t think just anyone can write about it, Lisa Graley made me believe these are living breathing people. They are people I know, solid and full of heart.
University of Georgia Press
Public Release Date: September 15, 2016