A memoir explores creativity, friendship, and lifelong trauma.
Browning (The Castoff Children, 2016, etc.) opens her book far from her New England home. She has traveled to Cimarron Valley, New Mexico. Her reasons are undisclosed but she finds herself transfixed by a female buffalo spotted near the roadside. Buffaloes are a symbol of sacrifice and the author ponders “ineffable things—of what it is to sacrifice all of one’s self, of grief, and gratitude.” Such links between the self and wild nature, between in-your-face reality and intangible truth, wind through Browning’s short work. She pans back to a year earlier and a lonely, painful miscarriage: twins. She didn’t tell her partner but “confessed” to her friend Mallory months later. The miscarriage was the “latest blow” in a life of physical, emotional, and psychological trauma. The author doesn’t dwell on details but says, “I had reached a point where I could no longer function.” She was diagnosed with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome and Mild Dissociative Disorder but inept therapy only deepened the condition. On Mallory’s advice, the two began a Christmastime road trip heading west, stopping in Taos, New Mexico, at the “honest” home of Mallory’s friends. Through nature, friendship, simplicity, and time, Browning felt “something was starting after years of things ending.” But she does not learn to let go of her suffering and trauma. Rather, she learns to carry it, own it. She loosely ties this idea with other writings on trauma and nature but her memoir as a whole is so uniquely personal, it reads almost as an offering. She tells her painful and revealing story, as many brave memoirists have done. But Browning gives much more. She chooses words with a poet’s economy and a naturalist’s eye for beauty. She includes her own black-and-white photography of the Cimarron buffaloes and the New Mexico and Colorado wilderness. Her stark, crisp landscapes fit the mood and theme of the book. And she deftly places her moving tale—her “small contribution”—within the vast panorama of this isolating digital age. The author believes the next frontier of creativity is not just telling bigger, more shocking stories but “humble baring,” a sacrifice of sorts, that brings people together despite and because of their brokenness.
A laconic, beautiful, and deeply insightful account about coping with loss.