A Memoir of Poetry and Pyschoanalysis
Poet Kate Daniels’s memoir Slow Fuse of the Possible is about a three-year stint in psychoanalysis, where attention to language and the fall into the unconscious are likened to poetry itself.
Daniels entered into psychoanalysis knowing that her unconscious would be plumbed, and expecting to attend sessions several times a week. Her analyst, called Ama, came to the profession in her middle age; she worked with Daniels in her first year of training. A longtime professor of creative writing and literature, Daniels acknowledges that she was a difficult patient; she knew many of the techniques and tactics used in therapy: “isn’t psychoanalysis a hermeneutical practice? An exegesis of personhood.” However, aside from Daniels’s mastery of language, the relationship was fraught: the pair were a poor fit.
The tension between Daniels and her analyst is palpable; it grows over their time together. Daniels conveys the intense sessions in tight prose and with dramatic attentiveness. She acknowledges the connotations of each exchange, breaking down sentences and comments and making sense of how small infractions, like a misspelled name, became devastating in the context of intimate therapy. Such mistakes, she says, can be acts of negation, of erasure, pushing two people further apart.
Headed by quotes from people ranging from Emily Dickinson to psychologist Donald Winnicott that serve as metaphorical dives into their subjects, the chapters experiment with language and different lenses for processing Daniels’s experiences. Her continual emphasis on language is no accident: she shows the ways in which the processes of analysis and writing mirror and inform each other, delving as they do into what’s figurative and metaphorical.
Slow Fuse of the Possible is a compelling memoir about tense and turbulent experiences within an analysis relationship.
CAMILLE-YVETTE WELSCH (December 27, 2021)
Charting Our Future in a Pandemic Year
Breaking Ground is a masterful essay collection that wrings meaning out of a pandemic year.
Moving from the summer of 2020 to the spring of 2021, these essays trace the changing face of the Covid-19 pandemic, from lockdowns to Black Lives Matter protests to the release of the vaccines. Breaking Ground collects the work of more than thirty contributors, including pastors, academics, and lay observers, on topics that are far from resolved. It is a blend of on-the-ground reportage, thoughtful conversations, theological studies, and philosophy; while rooted in a pandemic, it also covers racial justice and politics.
The essays highlight spiritual ideas that the pandemic made more obvious. Entries like Doug Sikkema’s “The Atmosphere” reflect on how understandings of home changed after edifying months of sheltering in place. Heather Ohansen’s “Preparing for Death,” written in the winter of 2020, ties Plato and Aristotle together with Christian theology to argue that contemplating death both prepares people for dying and helps them live better lives.
Understanding is also sought in the politics of the pandemic: “Portland: On the Ground” reports on the protests in the city; an interview with Marilynne Robinson from October of 2020, “Story Culture and the Common Good,” explores the cultural implications of the pandemic. Elsewhere, “When Place Becomes Paramount” is hopeful in discussing means of bridging the US’s deep political divide, one conversation at a time; it asserts that individuals have the power to make a difference. Still, as the book progresses, its sense of hope ebbs, leaving behind what Anne Snyder’s closing essay calls an “ache”—but also a sense that, from all of this, something new will grow.
Breaking Ground is a fascinating essay collection that seeks the strength to move on from Covid-19.
JEREMIAH ROOD (December 27, 2021)
The Great Django Reinhardt
The early life of guitar legend Django Reinhardt, and the accident that almost derailed his career, are the subjects of Django, Hand on Fire.
Born among a Belgian Roma community, Django plays the banjo from a young age. He’s fast to surpass his peers. His rapid rise leads to paying work in well-known bands, and he falls in love with a girl whom he intends to marry. But then he leaves his first love, Naguine, to marry another woman, Bella; forgets his banjo in a taxi; and starts a fire in his caravan by smoking in bed. The blaze causes extensive damage to his left hand and threatens to end his career.
After Bella leaves Django, he finds new inspiration and begins the hard work of regaining his former musical mastery. Naguine returns; their reunion is joyful. This biography ends on a happy note, with hints of Django’s coming, legendary musical work. Throughout, it weaves together the most reliable and compelling threads of Django’s story—including his imperfections. He is sometimes arrogant; he treats his brother and first love poorly; he has a predilection for gambling. His determination to be great, no matter the cost, is off-putting at first, but after he’s been humbled, it becomes his most admirable quality.
The art provides crucial visual details, from subtle facial expressions to the rich backgrounds of a Roma camp, jazz club, and hospital. It includes a kind of soundtrack, too, naming song titles that are supplemented by an enlightening afterword with photographs. Django, Hand on Fire is a fascinating account of the crucible in which an artist’s second life was forged.
PETER DABBENE (December 27, 2021)
The Science of Marking Time, from Stonehenge to Atomic Clocks
Chad Orzel traces how human concepts of time have changed over millennia in A Brief History of Timekeeping.
Today, “what time is it?” is a basic question with an accessible answer: all one has to do is look at a clock. But the clocks we know—both analog types that hang on the wall, and digital ones on our phones—are the culmination of thousands of years of hard work by philosophers, scientists, mathematicians, craftspeople, and even religious and political leaders. Thanks to—or, in a few cases, in spite of—their efforts, human beings have access to the most accurate timekeeping devices in history—and are pushing forward toward ever more precise knowledge of how time works.
The text alternates between history and science, introducing the people behind timekeeping advances and the physics of time itself. It begins with a basic astronomical definition of time—the position of the sun and other bodies in the sky—and shows how early humans captured planetary movements in monuments that still stand today. From there, the book moves into more complex topics, including quantum mechanics, showing how developments in clock making contributed to, and benefited from, advancements in other scientific fields.
As the book makes clear through its meticulousness and occasional sardonic humor, timekeeping is not just about measuring time, but is about time itself: by examining nature in its largest (stars) and smallest (atoms) forms, scientists from Jean Richer to Albert Einstein have furthered our understanding of how time passes in different places and circumstances. Their work has inspired modern physicists to use lasers to create the next generation of ultra-accurate atomic clocks—but the story of time will continue far, far beyond that.
A Brief History of Timekeeping is a thorough, enjoyable exploration of the history and science behind measuring time.
EILEEN GONZALEZ (December 27, 2021)
In Susan May Warren’s novel about a steady, fated romance, Sunrise, a prodigal son returns to the shadow of Denali to take up the mantle of a bush pilot, all while confronting memories of the woman he left behind.
After his estranged father is injured, Dodge, a veteran, returns to Sky King Ranch to cover his flight routes. He makes deliveries to remote homesteads and runs into Echo, a spirited wilderness guide who, a decade before, hurt him with a thoughtless betrayal. Both harbor mixed feelings about each other; they hesitate to rekindle their relationship.
The events of Dodge and Echo’s adolescence shaped their perspectives about love, as did their family rifts. At first determined to avoid pain, they learn to accept the risks that come from allowing God’s plans to supersede their own. Too often, though, the novel delegates issues of faith to Dodge’s father, who is a fount for calm advice. His words resurface in Dodge and Echo’s minds at opportune junctures in the tale.
Paralleling the reignited relationship are intriguing threats from poachers, grizzlies, and treacherous weather, as well as piercing descriptions of the couple’s hometown. Dodge and Echo search for a missing friend, and the demands of their mission result in plentiful suspense.
Dodge and Echo’s interactions are sometimes tentative, and at other times marked by restrained passion. Echo is somewhat fearful about them. This back-and-forth propels the story forward, though Echo’s repeating worries about abandonment are a point of frustration. Still, both characters are compelling and idealistic: each believes the other is the only person they’ll love, resulting in sweet endurance.
In the romance novel Sunrise, a once-couple reconciles in the rugged landscape of Alaska’s beautiful frontier.
KAREN RIGBY (December 27, 2021)