cover image Gathering the Family

Gathering the Family

William V. Holtz. University of Missouri Press, $39.95 (184pp) ISBN 978-0-8262-1153-8

In this gentle, elegiac memoir, Holtz, an English professor at the University of Missouri at Columbia, recreates the scenes and people of his Depression-era childhood in a mixture of moving anecdotes and self-conscious literary commentary. He tells about ""people by most measures as ordinary in their lives as I have been in mine, except that they made an extraordinary impression on me."" Some anecdotes reappear in more than one of the eight essays that make up Holtz's story. But the occasional repetition does not mar the narrative as much as his philosophic digressions, like this one of his life's journey--""Having meandered into the most potent, most polysemous of terms [love], I find that I have conflated into it the book and the word, my family, and the wilderness at the heart of nature."" More appealing are his descriptions of his family's struggles to survive hard times. He describes his parents as two innocents who blended their weaknesses in a ""fatal combination."" His father worked intermittently as a truck driver, and his maternal grandparents, Finnish immigrants who spoke no English, had to take in Holtz and his mother. The middle-class lifestyle that Holtz coveted at his friends' homes, seemed always to elude the young couple. Looking back, he acknowledges that the grand theme of his life has been to move beyond is parents failed and buried lives. Twenty-five photos. (Sept.)