A poet’s collection of prose that blurs the boundaries of fiction, memoir, and essay.
Most of this writing originally appeared in literary journals, and some of the essays work better on their own than others, but the juxtapositions within the collection are formally provocative. In a brief author’s note, Walters (Troy, Michigan, 2014) lists which pieces fall into which category but asserts, “the border between nonfiction and fiction—while seemingly as clear as black and white—is often porous enough to render the distinction irrelevant.” If she hadn’t listed the divisions of titles at the beginning, readers would often have no way of knowing, for both the fiction and nonfiction generally have a first-person perspective. The fiction pieces are often more intimate and revelatory, while what could be considered memoir can seem guarded, reticent, and oddly distanced. “How odd it feels to share a space with strangers, each of us sitting intimately in rows, facing the same direction. Everyone here and somewhere else at the same time,” writes the author at the conclusion of “The Personal,” which combines sexual history with meditation of the inscrutable “I.” Walters’ opening comparison to “clear as black and white” proves telling as well, since those issues are by no means clear within the identity of the author, as frequently perceived by others, who identifies as black but is light enough to make her race unclear and who is married to a white Jewish man. “Once I was busy caring for my son, my preoccupations with race shifted away from legitimating my own identity to seeking out a community that would acknowledge his,” she writes. In addition to questions of identity and categorization, feelings of love and loneliness pervade this collection, through writing that seeks understanding of person and place through history and geography.
A curious collection, as interesting for the way the pieces fit together as for the accomplishment of any one of them.