A Woven World: On Fashion, Fishermen, and the Sardine Dress

Alison Hawthorne Deming. Counterpoint, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-1-64009-482-6
In this lyrical memoir, poet and essayist Deming (Zoologies) traces the role of handiwork in her life and the lives of her ancestors, highlighting the “painful fact” of a vanishing world of simplicity and beauty. She recounts summers spent in a Canadian fishing village once celebrated as “the sardine capital of the world,” where a “handmade, place-made way of life is nearly over.” A viewing of a fish-scale-inspired Yves Saint Laurent dress prompts memories of her grandmother and great-grandmother, both dressmakers, and sparks an investigation into their lives, taking her to New York and Paris, where she’s “resigned to find in fragments a picture of the whole.” In episodic spurts, Deming picks a topic, researches it, then investigates its relationship to her life; among the subjects considered are the origin of camel hair coats, the history of herring, and environmental degradation as a result of industrialization. Deming has a poet’s eye for details—she describes the shingles of her family’s 150-year-old house as “herring scales” and imagines the previous tenants “in beds together packed like sardines”—but the overall collage-like assemblage can feel a bit hodgepodge. Champions of a home-crafted way of life will find much to savor here—but they’d be best served reading in small doses. Agent: Laura Blake Peterson, Curtis Brown. (Aug.)
Reviewed on : 07/16/2021
Release date: 08/24/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
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