Interconnected autobiographical essays from a poet whose life in New York City has bestowed both blessings and heartbreak.
In gauzy yet substantial prose, Zarin (The Ada Poems, 2010, etc.) takes readers on a journey through a lifetime's worth of homes, relationships and landscapes, displaying wry humor and an endearing sense of uneasiness with the tropes of memoir. Far from an exhibitionist’s tell-all, this collection instead grants us entry into the world of a private person, a woman who acknowledges that she is “entirely unsuited to selflessness” and who doles out tantalizingly cryptic bits of personal information. Zarin often depicts herself as a dreamer gazing out of windows, pretending that the spire of a metropolitan church resembles one in Prague or conflating the characters in films and books based on shared imagery. Indeed, one of the great pleasures of the book is the recurring nature of its images: Yellow stockings, blue bowls of strawberries, diaphanous curtains, familiar restaurants and drinking straws flit through these essays like the dragonflies that the author describes cyclically swarming at her favorite beach. None of this should suggest frivolity, however, for Zarin also excels at tackling difficult subjects with grace; “September” simply begins, “The Thursday before I received a telephone call from the children’s school.” The date that remains absent from that sentence permeates the rest of the essay. She treats the Holocaust, childhood fears and her youngest daughter’s illness with similarly powerful restraint, which makes her reaction to the latter especially potent: “I think, If this child dies, I will go mad. I think of a woman who wishes me ill, and I think, If something happens to this child, I will kill her.”
Pulses with a life force that illustrates why this poet “had also begun to love the shape that prose made in [her] head.”