cover image A Private History of Awe

A Private History of Awe

Scott Russell Sanders, . . FSG/North Point, $24 (322pp) ISBN 978-0-86547-693-6

Sanders attempts to transform what is in many ways a typical baby boomer experience—adolescence in the shadow of the cold war, a struggle with faith in college, conscientious objection to the war in Vietnam—into something archetypal, and very nearly succeeds. Much of the book deals with Sanders's early life in "a family more afraid of shame than of silence," with undercurrents of tension between an alcoholic father and a moralizing mother, but he continually returns to the present, where his mother is going through the final stages of physical and mental decline just as his infant granddaughter begins to discover the world around her. Sanders, an accomplished novelist and essayist (The Force of Spirit ), is enamored of the "magical power" of words and occasionally succumbs to ponderousness ("lovers do not so much make love as they are remade by love"). But in the most moving passages—when he describes the revulsion he felt as a teenager witnessing a deer hunt, or marvels at his granddaughter's first steps—he floods the reader with the raw emotional power of his memories. His generational peers will find themselves nodding in silent recognition early and often. Agent, John Wright. (Feb.)