GUESSWORK by Martha Cooley


A Reckoning with Loss
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The author of the honored novel The Archivist (1998) returns with a sometimes-wrenching memoir-in-essays about love and loss.

Cooley (English/Adelphi Univ.; Thirty-Three Swoons, 2005, etc.), a translator and an editor for the literary journal A Public Space, writes here about a caesura of 14 months in a small Italian village with her husband, a period that gave her time to travel a bit, to ruminate about loss (a writer friend, the decline of her parents, an ill neighbor who lives in a castle in the town, and more). The author also writes about local events (the wreckage of a cruise ship lies not far away) and animals (cats, birds, a fox that kills some goslings), and she quotes many lines from notable poets, including T.S. Eliot (principally), Whitman, Dickinson, Galway Kinnell, among others. Cooley moves stealthily around in time, using the shifts as both ally and enemy. She uses time to tell her story, shaping it to fit her needs, but she also fears time and what it has done and continues to do. (Her father suffers from Alzheimer’s; her mother has gone slowly blind; she thinks about her own aging.) Cooley also shifts tenses frequently and even changes person: in one affecting passage, she employs the “you” of the second person. Throughout, the author navigates leisurely through her year abroad, recounting how she and her husband drove to the mountains to hike, visited the local cemetery, interacted kindly with feral cats, ate local food, and tried to work on a new novel. But visitors from her memory keep intruding and demanding her attention. Most prominent among them are her parents, now in an assisted living facility, and the author is devastated that she is losing them both.

A quiet memoir with emotional power that is subtle, artful, and piercing.

Pub Date: April 25th, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-936787-46-3
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Catapult
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2017


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