cover image Leap


Terry Tempest Williams. Pantheon Books, $25 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-679-43292-0

When naturalist writer Williams was a child staying over at her grandmother's house, she would sleep beneath images of Paradise and Hell thumbtacked to the wall above her bed, symbols of the ""oughts and shoulds and if you don'ts"" of her Mormon upbringing. Years later, as an adult, Williams rediscovered those prints in Madrid's Prado Museum--they are the wings of Hieronymus Bosch's 15th-century triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights. But why had the erotic center panel been hidden from her childish eyes? The question leads Williams on a prolonged meditation contemplating the painting's meaning, her own childhood and the place of religion in life. In rich, poetic prose interspersed with scripture, news items and anecdotes, she builds a monument to the richness of Mormon culture in the life of a woman who is fiercely environmentalist, feminist, aware. But Williams also mixes her philosophical musings with the quotidian events of her trip to Spain and quotations from writers as diverse as Virginia Woolf and Charles Darwin, burdening her work at times with excessive detail. The hundreds of cherries in Bosch's garden remind Williams of picking cherries as a child in the orchards along the Wasatch Front. ""What principle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ means the most to you?"" asked her great-uncle as she and her cousin perched high on a ladder. ""Obedience,"" the cousin replied. ""Free agency,"" answered Williams, savoring a cherry. Her memoir searchingly explores the distance and tension between these answers. (May)