Nicholson’s debut is a slim volume of personal essays that deal with the violent death of her beloved spouse.
Nicholson’s husband was one of five people murdered by a troubled graduate student at the University of Iowa in 1991. This heartfelt collection is a multilayered exploration of that sudden loss. The essays that make up this book—its name taken from a Native American the author found pictured in a Wisconsin museum—serve as meditations on the shifting internal and external forces within the grieving process. Through the lens of a new widow figuring out how to live alone, the author explores ideas of losing oneself in home and identity, traveling anonymously and the comforts of myth and history. Considering that Nicholson’s evolution takes place against the backdrop of various physical therapies, counseling and support groups, her acknowledgement that writing is not therapy is crucial. Instead, as evidenced in this courageous and honest work, the author regards writing as the careful, conscious shaping of the truth of her experience for her audience. The reader follows Nicholson as she embarks on new journeys without her husband who was, poignantly, her high school sweetheart. The book’s final journey fittingly takes her into the life of a new partner, one that offers her the novel experience of being with someone who has also experienced losses and mistakes, and survived it. Often, Nicholson’s writing tends toward abstractions; those unfamiliar with the type of tragedy Nicholson has suffered might find it difficult to relate. Still, her skill with sensory detail serves as an anchor as she transports the reader through tragedy and triumph.
Despite its heart-wrenching subject matter, Nicholson offers a book punctuated by the joy of someone who has learned how to survive.