Poet/novelist/essayist Rapoport (A Woman’s Book of Grieving, 1994, etc.) takes a boat journey into the benediction of the past.
There’s no time to lose as the author rounds up a company of relatives, some working on their 60s and 70s, to make a pilgrimage by houseboat up the Trent-Severn Waterway back to their summer place in Bobcaygeon, Canada. The house no longer belongs to the family, so this will be a drive-by, and Rapoport will fill it with as many digressions as there are waterpaths in the Thousand Islands. She keeps the story in the moment, marveling at a double rainbow and the stars above a place called Burleigh Falls: “happy, trying to memorize the texture of each minute, convinced I shall not know such a time again, an oasis of untainted plenty,” while knowing that, “for me, memory is tangible, always present. My recollections are objects, available to scrutinize, to savor, even to alter.” She wants to taste a measure of what she once felt there at her grandmother’s place, and so the story is drawn ineluctably back to the dreaminess of those perfumed summer days. While the town has its psycho-geographical intensity, the memoir pivots around the family. Rapoport elegantly delineates the Judaic terrain, a temperate ground that scorned the ideologues and felt sorrow for the lapsed and that took delight in devotion and ritual, in knowledge and wisdom. She gives herself over to the dominion of emotion in the undertaking of this return, “like a wonder of nature to which people flock, their faces rapt, the water endlessly falling, stronger than death.” Stirringly, this involves saying good-bye: “Only if you acknowledge parting, embrace it without flinching, can you leave well. If you deny its imminence, the agony of farewell is never subdued.” There are some flinches, though, and they are powerful, compressed to the point at which gemstones are made.
A profound slice of “uncut opium, pure memory.”