“I scarcely remember myself as a child. Only as an eye, an ear, a ceaselessly inquisitive center of consciousness,” Oates (A Widow’s Story) admits, and so this memoir of her early life strings together the recollections that most deeply impressed her consciousness. They reveal an intensely shy, nervous, self-admittedly secretive child, as easily moved to terror as to wonder at the formative mysteries of childhood: the loss of a beloved pet chicken and later a grandfather, the sense of living in a landscape and a family haunted by violence, the acquisition of a library card and the discovery that “adult writing was a form of wisdom and power.” The essays, many previously published elsewhere, range stylistically, but when Oates falls into her narrative strengths—an alert eye for detail, an atmosphere suffused with dread and apprehension, an enormous sympathy for her characters—the pieces become stunning, as in accounts of a childhood friend lost to suicide (“The Lost Friend”), time spent in graduate school in Madison, Wisc. (“Nighthawk”), and Oates’s autistic younger sister (“The Lost Sister”). A fascination with the quirks of fate that concatenate into a life, and a long, deeply felt love for her parents, thematically unite this varied, kaleidoscopic, and ultimately insightful map to the formation of a writer who understands “how deeply mysterious the ‘familiar’ really is.” Photos. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/06/2015 Release date: 09/01/2015 Genre: Nonfiction
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