A series of essays explores Oregon, the author’s home state.
Parker (Running After Prefontaine, 2014) is a child of the Pacific Northwest, his family a set of devoted Portlanders. But spurred by his marriage, he moved to Minnesota, giving his homeland “season by season…an increasingly and unmistakably Edenic quality: an idea of a place we’ll never return to.” The author decides to spend the summer in Oregon, investigating not only his home state, but also his own desire to go back there and whether that is truly possible. While the essays often focus on the natural beauty of the place, there is always juxtaposed Parker’s consideration of how memory colors his perceptions and how his metanarrative desire for home alters his moods and thoughts. The opener, “Going Home,” introduces and focuses on the author’s uneasiness: His frequent trips to Oregon reveal “a steady accretion of incremental changes” that has “resulted in a complete discontinuity.” “Futures” relates Parker’s family history in the area along with his own past and he and his wife’s uncertainty as they try to make their own story. “On the Gentle Sand Facing In” wistfully recalls the author’s childhood beach house and its transformation over time. In another captivating essay, he hikes the Pacific Crest Trail, presenting himself as a somewhat hapless camper in search of certainty, of an analogous trail through a life. And “Field Notes from the Diffuse Heart of Oregon” obliquely sketches the natural wonders of the state: its rivers, waterfalls, deserts, and forests. “Nostalgias” historicizes and resituates the longing for home and the past, nicely dovetailing the personal aspects and the universality of that feeling. Parker writes with consuming intelligence, but beauty takes precedence in his imagery and prose. The lack of conclusion to many of these bewitching essays follows the theme of restlessness perfectly; the author is committed to thinking through an idea rather than pinning it down to one thing, much to his benefit. The sketches and paintings by debut illustrator Hirsch throughout accompany the text effectively.
A deftly composed collection that evokes, even in its specificity, the feeling of a place that may have only existed in memory.