A Solemn Pleasure: To Imagine, Witness, and Write

Melissa Pritchard. Bellevue Literary (Consortium, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-934137-96-3
Novelist Pritchard (Palmerino) offers an uneven but often moving collection of 15 essays on such varied topics as the search for a stable sense of place and the writing life. “We praise artists to devalue ourselves,” Pritchard writes in “A Graven Space,” which proves less concerned with its ostensible subject—Georgia O’Keeffe—than with the creation of false narratives around idols. “From the Deep South to the Desert South: An Epiphyte’s Confession” discusses Pritchard’s attempts to emulate famous Russian and American Southern writers early in her career, only to find she had become “a clever mimic.” Pritchard’s interest in location is clear throughout, whether she’s in London, Panjshir, or Edinburgh; the collection peaks with her revelation that she had found, in the American Southwest, a place without attachments. Her writing is often at its best at its most somber, as when describing the hospice nurses who attended Pritchard’s dying mother as “midwives,” or recalling the life and death of an American soldier she met while embedded as a journalist in Afghanistan. One of the strongest selections, “Still, God Helps You” depicts her encounter with a Sudanese man who was sold into slavery as a child. The collection’s impact is blunted by repetitive essays on the craft of writing. Nonetheless, readers will treasure the book’s numerous memorable moments. Agent: Joy Harris, Joy Harris Literary Agency. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/16/2015
Release date: 05/01/2015
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