Soulful, elegant memoirs from Schreiber (Midstream, 1990) that are everywhere touched by death. A decade back Schreiber moved, solo, from Manhattan to Columbia County in not-too-far-upstate New York. She wanted time for herself; she wanted sunlight; she wanted to write and read. She starts these memoirs with getting to know the wildlands that compose half of her one-acre patch, with the nearby trout waters and the little town of Ancram. She develops a highly communicative if reluctant relationship with a stray cat. She takes on, again reluctantly, the town's main source of employment and its main source of pollution, a smoke-belching, stinking paper mill. In the midst of these episodes, in one godawful five-year stretch, her entire family dies: first her mother, followed by her father, then her 50-year-old brother. She weaves these people in and out of her writing (she sees her mother in the blue eyes of the cat, is prompted to confront the paper mill because she had promised to bury her father in the stream it was befouling) and in the process stirs up feelings of loss and recovery. The second half of the book is less immediate—the scope here goes beyond Ancram, into youth and aging and mortality, aloneness and bliss and the strange world of dreams. But it is no less searching. The author won't stand for living with illusions and gives death more than a once-over. Wondrously, she retains a sense of humor and playfulness. Imagery and lyricism seem to come naturally to Schreiber; she delights in a school of little bluefish swimming through her preternaturally clear reflection on a lake surface. Only a tough customer could survive this emotional milling; only a fine talent could write about it so potently.
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