cover image The Winter Sun: Notes on a Vocation

The Winter Sun: Notes on a Vocation

Fanny Howe. Graywolf Press, $15 (196pp) ISBN 978-1-55597-520-3

Poet Howe's collection of autobiographical essays, interspersed with poetry and meditations, overcomes a haphazard construction and a measure of obscurity through the author's intuitive control of tone. Pinging from her Boston childhood to French philosopher Simone Weil to a poem by a 9th century Irish monk, in the course of one essay, Howe does not slow down to explain the relationships among her disparate elements, taking for granted her audience's literacy (historical and otherwise). Closer to poetry than memoir, Howe's dense pastiche of references and memories hides many intriguing connections-for instance, when reading Howe on the blind, imprisoned French Resistance member, Jaques Lusseyran, who recorded his experiences on a Braille typewriter while starving to death, it's worth knowing that the frequently-referenced Weil died is the same way. Suicide is itself a recurring theme, handled with great sympathy: ""people commit suicide when they cannot recognize what it is to be a human being."" Howe struggles to reconcile darkness with the hope offered by religion, mysticism, art and philosophy, but rather than reaching a validation of life, or of literature, Howe wonders at their messy relationship, encapsulated in part by a concluding thought on Hans Christian Anderson: ""whatever he described as terrible was what he loved most about life.""