A dutiful daughter—and superb memoirist—reflects upon the deaths of her parents.
Hampl (English/Univ. of Minnesota; Blue Arabesque: A Search for the Sublime, 2006, etc.) has crafted an honest and loving tribute to her parents, who raised her in St. Paul, Minn., where she has remained virtually her entire life. Her father (the eponymous florist) and mother (a librarian) had different cultural histories. He was Czech; she, Irish. They worked hard, went to church, believed in truth, justice and the American way, did nothing the world would deem remarkable. And, Hampl says, “Nothing is harder to grasp than a relentlessly modest life.” Her writings about that life highlight difficult truths about both the author and her parents. (It was her mother, she says, who made Hampl realize the coldness of her own heart.) Hampl begins at the hospital bedside of her mother, who lay dying after a stroke. She holds her hand and tries, simultaneously, to take notes. Several times in the ensuing text she returns to this scene—the hand-holding, the death-watch—until no life remains in the room but her own. The author moves back in time, telling us about her father’s business (the employees, the customers, the economics of flower growing and selling) and her mother’s career (she loved biographies). She adds that both had mixed feelings about her decision to become a poet. Her father, she says, thought “being a poet was all right, though hopeless.” Her mother eventually created an archive of Hampl’s work—every clipping, every note, every word she wrote. Hampl mentions occasionally her more conservative brother, who became a dentist and moved west, but his story is on the periphery. Death is the principal character, and Hampl shows us powerfully that Death touches not only the dying.
A memoir for memoirists to admire—with language that pierces.