A GEOGRAPHY OF SAINTS: A Memoir

Penny Allen, Author . Zoland $24 (263p) ISBN 978-1-58195-028-1

Beginning ominously—"Our first summer on the ranch up in the high country of Central Oregon, Peter and I were cage-trapping feral cats one by one and having them cut if we liked them, killed if we didn't"—Allen's alternately frank and lyrical back-to-the-country memoir has an unusual, gothic tinge. Though now a freelance writer (Ms., the International Herald Tribune), Allen was a struggling filmmaker during the Reagan years, when she felt "like a hungry animal, looking for an opening." After she met her lover, Peter, the two decided to caretake a ranch outside of Saints, Ore. But they found no sylvan retreat. They soon faced a scandal involving the illegal sale of timber; discovered the enormous local impact of the quickly growing, and politically suspect, Rajneeshpuram commune; encountered the dangerously high flood levels of a local dam; and dodged the fallout when a sexual relationship between a teenage boy and a prominent forest ranger—a friend of the boy's family—came to light. Through it all, Allen writes beautifully about nature, the profound emotional and spiritual effect of living on the ranch and her series of self-discoveries. Never reductive, sentimental or cynical about the rift between urban and rural, Allen's memoir is intelligent and vivid. (May)

Forecast:Enthusiastic blurbs from filmmaker Gus Van Sant and critic Todd Gitlin, a pleasing cover and zeal for ever-edgier memoirs will attract readers if this book gets the review attention it deserves.

Reviewed on: 05/07/2001
Release date: 05/01/2001
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