SURVIVAL STORIES by Kathryn Rhett

SURVIVAL STORIES

Memoirs of Crisis
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Twenty fine essays, some never before published, mark episodes of life-changing loss or illness and the redemptive movement toward reconciliation. Developed from Rhett's course in crisis memoir--or survival stories--at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, the anthology features works that encompass the distinctive elements of the form: the ``inclusion of present and past, narrative and digression,'' and an ``urgency'' that the work be written, which reveals itself in a sense of discovery for both writer and reader. The contributors include both well known writers, such as Lucy Grealy, Natalie Kusz, and William Styron, and newer voices, including Patton Hollow and Laura Philpot Benedict. Subjects span family deaths, abuse, illness, divorce, infidelity, physical disfigurement--all the sadder stuff of life. The events themselves are rendered dramatically or elliptically, as needed. But it's the observations that linger in the memory: Richard McCann's glimpse of a bereaved mother examining old photos, Alan Shapiro's vision of death, Nancy Mairs's encounter with grace. Steering clear of the potential dangers in the single-subject anthology, Survival Stories sustains interest with its variety of emotions and its many kinds of resolution. Years after his cancer, Reynolds Price analyzes his handwriting and his life and finds both ``taller, more legible, with more air and stride.'' Months after her death, William Loizeaux awaits the consolation of the sudden presence (``the strange sense of proximity, the smell of her skin in the air'') of an infant daughters; such moments, he has read, happen for those who grieve, but it does not come for him. Most important (and surprising), the immediacy and artistry of these works also inspire understanding, or at least companionship, though those seeking a religious dialogue or presence will for the most part need to look elsewhere. Measured and full of affecting essays, this is ideal for readers itchy to read beyond the Best American Essays collections and sustaining to those in hard straits themselves.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-385-48449-6
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1997




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