All Readers Richer for Books Like This One
BY RUTH MOOSE
Special to The Pilot
When people ask how you become a writer, Pat Conroy always answers that the first thing you have to do is be born into a dysfunctional family.
I think all families are dysfunctional in their own way. Mine was. Still is, but somehow we survive each other, and there's a bond stronger than blood.
In "Wishing For Snow," a memoir by Minrose Gwin, who is on the English faculty at UNC, she seems to have gotten her dysfunctional in all capital letters. My lord, a mama who dashes blame and guilt on her like dishwater, has to be instutionalized several times, only to call and issue threats for "getting even."
And yet, in writing this, Gwin comes off as so patient and self-effacing. There's not a word of anger or bitterness at the plate life set before her.
I admire that. The unflinching, honest portrait she paints of what must have been a painful childhood growing up and a demanding adulthood when often her own family had to sacrifice to rescue those drowning in madness.
(How much therapy and how long did it take to come to terms with all this? I know I couldn't do it.)
Minrose's mother, Erin Taylor Clayton Pitner, was a talented poet. Her poems and excerpts are from a diary begun when she was 12 and are bridged beautifully throughout "Snow."
You get a glimpse into the precocious child Erin Taylor (she was always called by both names in the Southern way) must have been. And you love her. Her poems are full of fresh language, and they grow to show her maturity as a poet. Well-crafted work.
But the real craft is how Gwin stitched in the poems to make this book about her mother, and herself. She skillfully weaves past and present into one tapestry of time so the reader is never lost as to who is speaking, where they are now.
This is truly a book I couldn't put down. The language, the love, the care for all those involved, is spellbinding and emotional in its bravery. Books like this don't come along often.
When they do, you tell somebody, "You have to read this." We are all richer for books like this. Books that let us look at our own lives in a fresh way -dysfunctional as we are.
Gwin is also the author of "The Queen of Palmyra," a novel set in Mississippi and in some ways a mirror to "Wishing for Snow." Read both. Good bookends for a stimulating book club read.
Ruth Moose is a longtime review for The Pilot. She teaches creative writing at UNC-Chapel Hill.
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