Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Strong West Wind

    The first selection reviewed for this month's What Should Kester Read? was Alison Bechdel's Fun Home; a daughter's non-fiction account of her and her father and the relationship between them. It was a sad story, but dispassionately told, and it left me cold. It seemed to me a story that demanded great care, told by a woman who didn't care much at all, except for the aesthetics of things, resulting in a story that was beautifully crafted, but bitter and brittle and cruel.
    The final selection reviewed for this month's What Should Kester Read? is Gail Caldwell's A Strong West Wind; a daughter's non-fiction account of her and her father and the relationship between them. And while it is certainly not a sentimental or sappy story, it is told with a warmth and heart that Bechdel sorely lacked. The "strong west wind" of the title works on multiple levels; Caldwell was born and raised in Amarillo, TX and west Texas is known for its winds, but Caldwell's story is about more than west Texas, it is a story of sound and fury, of family and faith, and of the challenges that come inevitably with change. Caldwell crafts a sentence like a woodworker or sculptor, her efforts come off looking effortless; a memoir both moving and magical. Whether writing about her own past or that of her father, she is unflinchingly candid and unfailingly, often heartbreakingly, real. And yet, the result never has the feel of dispassionate expose, instead it feels true. And that's because it is true; true in the way that something is "good and true;" true in the way that an arrow is true, piercingly so. Humble and sincere, honest about her own faults and foibles as much as anyone's, wry and wise in her assessments of herself, but never taking the lazy route of false modesty. This is a story about growing up and moving on and lessons learned along the way, and one sentence from her prologue was all I needed to get hooked; "Like a million cowards and trailblazers before me, I had mistaken being gone for being free." Caldwell never tries to say which of these she is, she simply shares her story and allows her reader to decide. Which, in a day and age when too many memoirists imbue their stories with more drama than is warranted, feels like the work of a trailblazer to me.

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