Kirkus Reviews QR Code
TRY TO GET LOST by Joan Frank Kirkus Star


Essays on Travel and Place

by Joan Frank

Pub Date: Feb. 18th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-8263-6137-0
Publisher: Univ. of New Mexico

A gathering of honest, luminous essays on home and travel.

“Place is identity, style, faith, cosmology,” writes Frank (All the News I Need, 2017, etc.) in her latest book, the winner of the River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize. From this assured, thoughtful view, the author reveals how traveling as an older adult has brought shifting perspectives. In a piquant opening essay, Frank considers First-World complaints on the inconvenience of going anywhere paired with the still-held romantic belief in travel's worth. A humorous piece on shopping for the right bag morphs into memories of childhood, linking present and past through ideas of containment, organization, and portability. The sights of Firenze, Italy, inspire separate impressions that show the city as a place both marred and upheld by tourism. Frank skillfully uses the ordinary aspects of traveling to segue into wide-ranging insights on belonging, longing, and home, with occasional familiar laments. These include the embarrassing behavior of Americans and timely comments on the current Trumpian moment (“when surroundings dazzle, Blue-leaning humans romanticize. We assume that a landscape’s loveliness seeps into its inhabitants”). It's the autobiographical essays, though, that linger the most. The aching standout, “Cave of the Iron Door,” features a return to the author’s hometown, Phoenix. Frank overlays a familiar yet alien, desert landscape with memories of her parents' strained marriage. The nostalgic, elegiac movement from childhood magic to hindsight about her mother's isolation in the 1950s is heartbreaking, and the essay culminates in her mother's death from a barbiturate overdose. For all its attentiveness to beauty and loss, this wise and humorous collection is also a moving record of anticipation and expectation. Each place, taken on its own terms, yields up its own flavors and character, but everyone is bound by one eloquent fact: "time is the vastest real estate we know."

Philosophical, sophisticated literary forays that are a pleasure to dwell in.