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Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography

by Susan Cheever

Simon & Schuster | 257 pages | $26.00

Reviewed by Jan Alexander

susan cheever

I’ve wanted to talk with Louisa May Alcott since I was 10 years old. Susan Cheever presumably shares this fixation. When she read Little Women, “it was as if this woman from long ago was living inside my head,” Cheever writes in the introduction to her new biography.

This is how much I looked to Alcott, and it might at least in part explain why writers continue to examine her much-examined life. Halfway through Little Women I decided I, too, would be a writer, just like Jo March. I ripped the pages out of an old book with a nice hardcover—sometimes one must make a sacrifice in the name of budding art—then folded in 50 sheets of paper which I stitched into the binding. Then I began handwriting a novel of my own about, well, four sisters with wise parents, poor but happy, and a lively boy next door. It was set in the 1960s instead of the 1860s, so how could anyone accuse me of plagiarism? That is a moot point anyway, because somewhere between Chapters 1 and 2, I got discouraged and stopped, for one main reason: I knew nothing about wise, pious, doctrinal parents and daughters who never even entertained the notion of rebelling against those parents.

I can’t be a novelist, I thought, because my family is too weird (in 2011 parlance, dysfunctional.)

Years after I learned there was no Santa Claus, I found out that the March family was equally imaginary. The real-life Alcott family left copious journals and letters, not to mention essays and fiction by Louisa and her high-minded and highly dysfunctional father, Bronson Alcott, all irrefutable evidence that this was a family that often went hungry thanks to Bronson’s thwarted ideals and refusal to compromise, and a father who called the spirited young Louisa, “a fiend.”  All of which has been catnip to countless writers who perhaps had their own “ah ha” moment when they found out that the Alcotts were a troubled, unconventional household, without even a stable home and hearth. (They moved constantly, in search of a pipedream.) There are at least 15 biographies of Louisa May Alcott on Amazon alone, and that’s counting only the ones written for adults. I suspect that Cheever, like many biographers before her who wrote pretty much the same story presented here—complete with oft-published old photographs—wrote this book out of a burning desire to talk with Alcott and ask her, “What was it really like to be you?”

Occasionally a writer comes along and turns Alcott into a fictionalized character, which seems a sensible way to cast your own interpretation when every possible revelation seems to have already been mined. Most apropos for our times, Kit Bakke summoned Alcott by e-mail correspondence with Miss Alcott's E-mail: Yours for Reforms of All Kinds (2006). And as prolific as Alcott was, I do believe that if she were around today she’d be composing lengthy text messages and blasting out daily tweets and blogs. So I decided, lack of originality notwithstanding, to “friend” Alcott via modern technology and ask her to be the one to review this latest missive on her life:

Okay, there you are, and may I call you Ms. Alcott? When Susan Cheever summoned you, did the two of you connect in a meeting-of-the-minds kind of way?

Dear me, it is hard to get used to such vulgarisms as “okay,” but I have grown fond of “Ms.” Quite so, Ms. Cheever and I are kindred spirits in many ways. As writers, we both have our days when something sublime seizes our pen—or keyboard, as the case may be—but we also have those days when we can’t get over the idea that a disciplinarian is looking over our shoulder, and our writing comes out stilted. She says my body of work was uneven, which I concede is a fair critique. I have developed a thick skin over the last 150 years, so please know I am not practicing tit-for-tat when I say the dear Ms. Cheever’s writing is uneven in this very book. Just when I think she’s truly captured some of the most painful periods of my life and my art, she lapses into generalities on feminism, on history, but especially into banal pronouncements on literature that would seem to belong in a manual titled, “Writing Immortal Prose for Dummies.”

Of course, we both had famous and famously troubled fathers. I believe she saw a great deal of her own father in mine. I chuckled in spite of myself at her assessment that “Bronson Alcott was an aristocrat of nothing but the schoolroom.” John Cheever, as she depicts him in her illuminating 1984 memoir, Home Before Dark, was obsessed with outward appearances, and truly, my father was too, in his own way.  John Cheever was far more successful, and his drinking would never have been tolerated in my father’s temperance-vegan household. But both of our fathers came from dire poverty that probably instilled them with a rage that was the foundation for all they did. We both witnessed our parents loving and hating each other, and dare I say we both knew there were interlopers in their marriage.

Ms. Cheever is certain her father had bisexual affairs, and that could explain some of her curiosity about whether there was a carnal nature to my father’s relationship with Mr. Charles Lane, a well-to-do Englishman who came to our home to start a utopian community. Ms. Cheever has a wealth of previous books that scrutinized that period of our lives, but she brought back the terror that governed my world at the time. I was only 10. I watched my mother keep house like a servant under what Ms. Cheever calls “a petty despot”, and then in the evenings Mr. Lane would lecture on the barbarism of the family unit, the predatory nature of women and the evil intoxications of maternal love. For a few pages Ms. Cheever ran with her instincts and called my home at the time, quite rightly, an asylum. I would have derived much guilty pleasure if she’d let her imagination carry her along; I truly do not know if my father bedded down with Mr. Lane, but they did bundle together, and she could have chanced her own view. But Ms. Cheever reported on all of this in an utterly responsible, yet utterly rehashed manner, including an unnecessary nod to the idea that biography is not fully objective because of course the facts chosen can manipulate the narrative.

I’ll tell you one of my wicked and vain little fantasies; I wish that someday some writer would give my life the Greek tragedy treatment, like Homer taking on the siege of Troy and going for whatever works as spectacle. I am simply weary of reading books about me that contain footnotes.

It’s hard to read Ms. Cheever’s book and not hate your father —all the more so because it seemed as if the words didn’t exist in your era, or at least in your home, for a child to acknowledge bad parenting.

Perhaps it will reassure you to hear of the couch sessions my ghost has held with Dr. Freud’s ghost. Yet is this condition you call Victorian era repression not one of the main reasons I continue to fascinate you?

You inhabitants of the 21st century devour those horrid reality shows because they are a kind of theatre that dramatizes your worst fears: being the pariah on a desert island, singing and dancing your no-talent heart out before a panel of sarcastic judges. What are the horrors of my upbringing if not an historical reality show for you? A father as absolute authority, and you must bow and scrape and never for an instant disobey the Fifth Commandment—does that not send your adrenaline racing? What was even scarier in my home, and this is something Ms. Cheever understands fully, was that there was no dividing line between children and parents.

She writes of how while I was procrastinating over writing Little Women in 1868, I wrote in my journal that my aging mother sat at rest in her sunny room “and that is better than any amount of fame to me.” I was a 36-year-old spinster by then, but I don’t need to explain guilt-tripping to you. Certainly I imagined Mama and Papa could peer in to my innermost thoughts, and in fact they did. As Ms. Cheever said, in another one of the good parts of her book, “Privacy in the Alcott family was equated with secrecy and furtiveness. Although all the Alcott daughters kept journals in which they were urged to confide their innermost thoughts, for instance, their parents routinely read the journals and commented on them in the margins.”

Ms. Cheever, though she wasn’t the first to come up with this theory, says you dealt with your feelings about your father by placing the patriarch in Little Women off-stage. But did you have to make the March family so ideal?

The dear Ms. Cheever talked with my ghost at great length about all of that, how I wrote about a family beset by    genteel poverty but never starving, when in reality we were what I christened in some much earlier stories, “the pathetic family.” But the writing of Little Woman was a duty I took on at my publisher’s urging, and my goal was commercial success. A novel of a pathetic family would not have sold well back then.

On the other hand, you grew up with Ralph Waldo Emerson as your father’s patron, you took walks with him and knew Henry David Thoreau. You had no lack of learned minds around to nourish your talent.

I myself cannot help but wonder if Ms. Cheever, as the product of a famous father herself, took my rich inner life somewhat for granted. Also, of course, this is ground she has already trod, in her book American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work (2006). This, too, was a book that sifted through what has already been written, but is it sinful of me to relish my inclusion in what she calls a “genius cluster,” and with my name the first in the title, albeit through a mere accident of alphabetical arrangement? In that book, Ms. Cheever dwells less on the debates on Transcendentalism, and more on the bickering and the love affairs of the mind. But it was there, at the feet of my father’s peers, that I learned the verbal and subliminal lessons that permeated my books—and according to critics through the ages, the knowledge I handled best was that which could be translated into guidance for an everyday New England girlhood, not the lurid and exotic prose that I so relished at the time.

Ms. Cheever’s new biography is also about your art.

Yes, and never more to the point than when she writes of how Little Women seized upon the prevailing literary winds of its time. The feminist perspective of late has been that I wrote a tale of moral pap for young girls to please my parents and just happened to also create characters who speak to the ages.  But as I mentioned, there was also what you now call the market. Ms. Cheever goes into a bit of history that for once belongs here, about how after the Civil War the United States began to recognize children as a species with their own special needs and desires, not just miniature adults. A great many books for little boys emerged, and it made excellent business sense to create books for little girls too, though I felt I was a writer destined for loftier pursuits.

However, I don’t know what possessed Ms. Cheever to write this as an evaluation of my inadvertent masterpiece: “There are two kinds of masterpieces: those that use great leaps of the imagination to bring extraordinary scenes and adventures onto the page, and those that reveal the ordinary.” You can do either and still produce something utterly forgettable. I tried to whisper to her, but she was in one of her inhibited moods, that if you want to define what makes a masterpiece, think about a perfect balance of universal truths, magical rhythms, raw and generous emotions, and a work that is right for its time. Oh, to be sure, it could instead be right for a future time if the world isn’t ready for your genius, but I’ll leave that to my father’s ghost to work out in his couch sessions.

I do appreciate my latest biographer’s sorting out of my bad and good writing. She doesn’t like the novel that was my favorite at the time, Moods, which she dismisses thusly: “it’s hard not to hear the clanking of metaphysical machinery going on in the background.” And in dissecting an early essay that in retrospect, I too, realize was too much about revenge against a hideous employer, Ms. Cheever presents a rather nice, though not all-encompassing appraisal: “Bad writing is often driven by resentment, and good writing is based on authority.”

If I were living in your time, I could have turned that particular essay into The Devil Wears Prada. And think of the memoir I might have written about my dysfunctional family, even without the substance abuse or incest that are so de riguer today, as if childhood trauma has been reduced to only its most blatant signifiers. On the other hand, I like to think that if I were there in the flesh, I would shrug off my victimhood and instead write about plucky young women who get by in spite of evil in their midst, and are quick to spurn the attentions of some hedge fund manager who wants a trophy wife.

I guess that’s why Susan Cheever and so many of us still keep calling you out there in the beyond.

Yes my dear, look to me for lessons in how to make sure your finest instincts survive.

Jan Alexander is editor-at-large for the Neworld Review and author of the novel Getting to Lamma.

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Andrew Johnson

by Annette Gordon-Reed

Times Books (Henry Holt and Company) | 2011 | 165 pages

Reviewed by Fred Beauford

annette gordon-reed

For years, I have had my own versions of heaven and hell. They are both the same place, centered in the same spirit world that is all around us. However, in this incredible world, if you can call it that (because I don’t really have the words yet to fully describe it), there are no sweet and willing young virgins, or costumed clerics strutting about and pulling rank, all the while claiming to be close friends of the Committee of Four, the real Almighties.

Or even, for that matter, free fried chicken joints!

In this world, even the sex seeking dullards come fully alive, because it offers wonder after wonder that even the most insightful of us, on that blessed place we once called earth, never came close to getting right. We humans just didn’t have the information that we needed to see things that can only vaguely be conceived of as earth-bound, carbon-based creatures, totally unaware of all that surrounds us

Those that went to heaven were free to explore this vast, wondrous universe, and if they were diligent enough, thoughtful enough and curious enough--as they floated blissfully by in total wonderment--they might finally learn what their true purpose truly was.


Those who committed gross crimes against life, the most precious element in the universe (because that’s what fuels it, and gives it purpose) were forced to face the descendants of those they had wronged, as long as their descendants still lived on Earth, or whatever world they were from.

For example, my favorite American arch villain, Thomas Jefferson, would have to stand and face eons of African Americans, even those with just one drop of decadency -- of all sizes, shapes and colors (including some of his own close relatives), where they could walk up to him and utter one word: “Parasite,” and force him to bow down, as one by one, they slapped him in the face on their way to their own heaven or hell.

For President  Andrew Johnson, who the U.S. had the misfortune to be the person to succeed the slain Lincoln, his hell would be to have to sit alone in a hot, humid, lonely, gloomy log cabin, much like the old south he knew well, and read and reread, until he once again collapsed back into the cosmic egg—Harvard professor Annette Gordon-Reed’s biography of him.

As an old Southern expression goes, “she laid some serious wood on him.”

Gordon-Reed writes, comparing President Abraham Lincoln to Vice-President Andrew Johnson: “But what made the difference between them? Why was Lincoln the right man at the right time? Why did Johnson fail so miserably when fate handed him the reins of power? Lincoln tops almost every list of the greatest American presidents, admired by conservatives and liberals alike. Johnson, on the other hand, is almost always found among the worst, if not the worst—the man who botched Reconstruction, who energized and gave aid and comfort to the recently defeated enemies of the United States, the first president to be impeached by the House of Representatives, escaping by a hairsbreadth, one vote, in the Senate. America went from the best to the worst in one presidential term.”

She couldn’t have made her point clearer.

She also points out that Andrew Johnson was no friend to blacks: “Throughout the entirety of his political career Andrew Johnson did everything he could to make sure blacks would never become equal citizens in the United States of America. Tragically, he was able to bring the full force and prestige of the American presidency to the efforts.”

I was already well aware of Johnson’s betrayal of Lincoln, the newly freed black slaves, and all of those 600,000 Americans that had perished in the war before I started reading this book. Perhaps that is why what I found most intriguing about this story, written by a Pulitzer Prize winning author, is how a poor, uneducated person--poor white trash, if you will--who was born in circumstances just a short rung above the blacks slaves he came to hate so profoundly, managed to claw his way to the most powerful position the New World had to offer. Up until this point in American history, high-level politicians from the south, in Johnson’s case, Tennessee,  were all from the elite, slave owning class.

This is where Gordon-Reed clearly excels as a writer and historian. Despite her obvious antipathy toward Andrew Johnson, she allows his story to be told. This is the first time I can remember being treated to such a full bodied treatment of the prototype of a Southern white male, who was left out of the grand feast that was slavery, and who despised the planter class and the black slaves, because of it.

In commenting on Johnson’s hard-scrabbled life as the son of parents without property, whose father died when he was just a small child, and who had to enter into a binding apprenticeship to the local tailor at the age of ten, (until he ran away from him at the age of fifteen), Gordon-Reed notes, “We can never be certain, but it was probably during these early years that Andrew Johnson began to develop his deep-seated obsession with the wrongs that poor whites suffered at the hands of the planter class and their alleged enslaved co-conspirators. In Johnson’s later formulation, slavery was not primarily the destroyer of black lives. Its chief harm was that it prevented lower-class whites from rising to take their rightful place at the head of the table…as his action during his presidency suggest, Johnson’s much-vaunted hatred of the southern planter class was born of deep envy and a form of unrequited admiration.”

On his own from fifteen, Andrew Johnson nevertheless rose from successful businessman to alderman, State Senator,  Congressman, Governor, Senator and finally, to Vice President in Lincoln’s second term. This ascendency from someone who only learned to read in his early twenties.

Professor Gordon-Reed points out that much of his success was due to the fact that he was a powerful public speaker; steadfast in his defense of whites left out of the spoils of slavery, as well as a bombastic, plain-spoken bully. What brought him to the attention of President Lincoln was his long, consistent defense of the Union, and his later out-spoken opposition to slavery, although he once supported the “peculiar Institution.”

“…nearing the end of his first term,” she writes, “Abraham Lincoln, one of the most brilliant politicians in American history, was in trouble. He was facing challenges within his own party and from a growing peace movement fueled by…war weariness. Lincoln needed a running mate who could send a clear statement of his resolve to see the war through to a successful end, even as he tried to lay the groundwork for reconciliation between North and the South. Who better to do this than a “War Democrat” from one of the rebel states?”

Johnson faced great personal and political damage in the south because of his stance. Although most of Tennessee joined the new Confederacy, he was the only southern senator that remained in the U. S. Senate, and using all of his gifted skills as an orator, spoke out forcefully against secession, which, as Professor Gordon-Reed points out, greatly endeared him to northerners, and the abolition movement, although the great Frederick Douglass is quoted early in the book that he felt that Johnson was “no friend to blacks.”

Was this why Lincoln, committing perhaps the biggest mistake in his political career, just to get re-elected, dumped his vice president and picked Johnson?  Professor Gordon-Reed hedges her bets, though the evidence she presents certainly makes that case.

For those who do not know that much about the details of what happened next, which led to the unrest that we faced for much of the 20th century, this is good book with which to start.


    Professor Gordon-Reed’s Andrew Johnson is an exciting story, and extremely well told. It is also, at its heart, a “what if” story: if Lincoln had survived, would he have done what Johnson did, and allowed blacks in the south to exist as much as they did during slavery, free in name only and under the violent yoke of white supremacy, in order to bring the south back into the Union, with real freedom only coming a century later, in 1965? This, like the other “what if” story concerning whether President Kennedy would have pulled us out of Vietnam, or do what another southern President, Lyndon Johnson did, and escalate the conflict, an action which also tore the nation apart?

We will never know the answer to either one of these questions.


As I once closely watched the Civil Rights Movement in the south that brought about this freedom, and brought real Democracy to America, one question that was always in the back of my mind – and I wasn’t alone. One of the white men who beat John Lewis into unconsciousness during one of the Freedom Rides, a few years ago, in his 70’s, wrote Congressman Lewis a letter of apology.

When a newspaper reporter finally tracked him down, and asked him why he wrote the Congressman such a revealing, frank admission of personal failure, the old white man replied that he had been, “Just plain wrong. But you know what,” he added,  “what I still can’t understand, to this very day, is where did all that hate come from?”

That was the same question I had asked. It just didn’t make sense to me. For almost two years I was the only black in my tank platoon. Some of my best white buddies were southerners, including Elvis. But there it was, image after image flooding my television screen of angry white people, grownups, men and women, attacking little children on their way to school.

Professor Gordon-Reed’s book has gone a long way in helping me understand the deep roots of that hatred. Andrew Johnson is one of a series of books on the American Presidency by Times Books, and a series that continues to impress me. Books are supposed to teach you things you didn’t know. This is the third book I have read from the series, and each time, I have either learned something important I didn’t know before, or saw some of what I did know in a totally different way.

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Mommie Dearest?
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

by Amy Chua

The Penguin Press | 229 pages

Reviewed by Janet Garber

author amy chau

Helicopter parents have nothing on Amy Chua.  Does she not have enough to keep her busy? She’s a Professor of Law at Yale, author of several books on ethnicity, she often tours the country as a guest speaker, and now, this memoir.  And yet nothing, and I mean nothing, can get this sticky flypaper mom off the back of her kids’ necks.  Basically, she raises them in a hothouse atmosphere where all they can do is work, work, work – no play dates, no TV, no computer games, no sports. They are to study every second (alone, with a private tutor and then with her), even on vacation, and devote 5-6 hours a day to practicing piano for one, and violin, for the other.

All is excused, as this is the way Chinese mothers (tiger mothers) raise their young.  The method is obviously successful, Chua says.  Look at her and look at the many Asian youngsters who are accomplished, successful, and fulfilled!  And then look at the unwashed hordes of American kids whose parents are too afraid to discipline them or expect much – not as successful, in her book.  So though married to another Professor of Law, a Jewish-American, she forswears perhaps the love of her kids, and certainly the peace of her household, for kiddie boot camp.  Both daughters become musical prodigies, but at what cost?

Chua takes us through the daily routines with her daughters, the painful hours of monitoring their schoolwork and their endless practice sessions on the piano and violin.  Her power struggles with her younger daughter start at three and climax as the daughter enters adolescence.  Once in a while, Chua lets a bit of doubt enter her voice when she wonders aloud if she has any capacity herself for happiness.  And, hell, Chinese mothers don’t worry about whether their child is happy, self-actualized, or has found his or her passion.  Only by pushing harder and harder and never ever settling for an A minus can they gain confidence in their abilities and develop self-esteem.   Their eyes are set on four generations of family behind them who they cannot and will not disgrace with subpar performances.

What makes this book so engaging is Chua’s tone.  She is perceptive enough and American enough (second generation) to see her actions from the outside, acknowledging at times that Child Welfare would have a good case against her!  She knows her husband disagrees with all the screaming and fighting and inflexibility of routine, but simply defers to her.  As much as she criticizes American parenthood, she has to admit that her husband has turned out to be pretty darned successful in his own right.  So he gave up music at a young age and wishes he had been forced to practice – yet he still emerges as a more well-rounded character and, conceivably, a happier person.

Easy as it is to poke holes in Chua’s Chinese method, the American reader has to admit that her techniques and assumptions make us a bit defensive about our own.  We’re not likely to adopt her Draconian measures with our own kids – you know, she would be a good match for The Great Santini! – but maybe we should be a little more demanding of them?  Or else how, as she points out, will they ever compete in a global economy with the ultra-disciplined offspring of Eastern countries?

Throughout, Chua displays a blithe unconcern for her children’s psychological well-being and disregards any preferences they may have about how to spend their free time.  “It’s all about you, Mom,” one accuses her, and the reader has to agree that having a child perform at Carnegie Hall may be more of a thrill for the parent than the child.  The book builds towards a climax of sorts, a confrontation between mother and daughter, in which, Omg, the daughter, throws a water glass on the ground! 

This climax is not more exciting than it sounds, and from here on, Chua seems to flounder.  The kids are not grown up yet so it’s hard to access whether any real damage has been done to their delicate psyches.  When asked, they let their mother off the hook (of course!).  She admits she does not know how to finish the book and it shows.  It would be instructive to revisit this family in ten years and then assess the damages.

Whatever the conclusion, the reader has to applaud Chua for her honesty in recreating the daily routines to which she submitted herself and her daughters and indirectly, her husband.  Even her Chinese immigrant parents, at times, were begging her to ease up a bit.  She has written this account in a very readable, clear prose style, and her story can be absorbed in no time at all.  What follows are hours of stimulating dialogue with friends and family over the Chinese vs. American way of raising children and the conclusion that we both have a lot to learn from each other and maybe the middle road, as is often the case, is the one to take.

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Bird Cloud

by Annie Proulx

2010 | 256 pages | $26.00

Reviewed by Jill Noel Shreve

annie proulx

“…I saw to the west, in the direction of the distant property, one cloud in the shape of an immense bird, the head and beak, the breast looming over the Rockies. I took it as a sign that I would get the property and thought Bird Cloud should be the new name for the old sheep ranch,” wrote Annie Proulx in her most recent memoir, Bird Cloud. After more than a decade of living in a house on a property that didn’t agree with her, Proulx decided to set out on a hunt for a new piece of property—one she could build her dream house on. And that’s when a friend suggested the 640-acre piece of land near Saratoga, Wyoming, owned by The Nature Conservancy, the land that Proulx would come to name Bird Cloud.

Proulx’s memoir spans over a seven year period, from 2003 to 2010. She focuses on the undertaking of building the home she’s always imagined, one that would allow her space to breathe, to feel at ease, and to write. Early on in the story, Proulx acquires the piece of land, and purchasing it from The Nature Conservancy causes little struggle or infraction in Proulx’s life compared to the battles she faces actually getting her house built.

Via an architect, a building crew, a concrete expert, water consultants, a furniture designer, plumbing and wiring diagrams, Polygal windows, a plank bridge, shiny copper panels and a myriad of other things and people, Proulx works toward this vision of a homestead. While maneuvering through the feat of building her own home, she and the crew encounter many obstacles—cow herds roaming on to the property, snow storms with hundred-mile per hour winds, inexperienced foremen feigning expertise, health ailments, and the list goes on.

 This is the pull of the narrative, leaving the reader asking, “Will Annie get her house built?”

But the story is more than that. Proulx employs memoir techniques alongside the overarching plot line, and the way in which she uses these techniques underscores the significance of this story for the reader. Her primary and most successful technique is association. Throughout the entire narrative, in addition to Proulx’s description of purchasing the land and her overseeing of the house construction, we also get anecdotes, memories and research. She opens the door to her Franco-American heritage, allowing her readers a look inside. She writes about familial relationships, between her mother and her sister. She writes about the history of land acquisition in the Midwest. She delineates decades of home architecture and exposes freakish Wyoming weather patterns. She uses this associational technique to give her audience a rich, textured piece of her life rather than a simple recounting of events.

And, in the midst of these associations, the reader understands the story’s significance: people come from somewhere and then those same people live somewhere and interact with the environment around them, which in turn, creates more history.

Because of this message, and the vivid imagery drawn by Proulx’s language, I recommend this memoir. Bird Cloud will leave you with a greater sense of Proulx’s life, but more than that, it leaves you with a burning desire to know where you came from and what you want out of life. Proulx will take you on a journey in Bird Cloud.

Jill Noel Shreve teaches Creative Writing at Hunter College in New York City. You can read more about her at

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