Sarah Fawn Montgomery’s essay collection Halfway from Home is careful in its considerations of home, family, the natural world, and how the three intersect.
Beginning in Montgomery’s childhood in a dusty California town, “Dig” explores her relationship with her father, who she bonded with over their mutual love of excavation. “In Search of Nostalgia” slides into her adolescence, combining fascinating historical details (like the fact that nostalgia was once considered a medical disease) with memories that have been altered by time. “Carve,” which is at times addressed to a whale, sketches parallels between scrimshaw and physical abuse.
Montgomery ponders the characteristics of wasps in “Construction” and reflects upon how their nest-building relates to her troubled marriage. Everywhere, she identifies with the natural world. Gazing at “the beating bodies” of butterflies in a monarch grove is “like seeing [her] heart.” She feels an affinity with moths fluttering at light, “compelled and frantic, the way I feel now as an adult pulled to the glow of a screen.” Other essays touch on contemporary concerns, including COVID-19, global heating, and gun violence. Certain motifs, including monarch butterflies, a narwhal’s horn, and underground reoccur, binding essays together.
Every page contains stunning details, often rendered in sensuous language. For example, while witnessing a fire, Montgomery describes flames as “slurping into the hallway.” The fawns who live in woods near her Massachusetts home have “soft muzzles coated in clover.” Montgomery’s prose is calm and measured, even in addressing the horrors of addiction and abuse that surfaced in her complicated family. The beauty and precision of her sentences makes the at times horrific content bearable to read.
Halfway from Home is an accomplished collection of thoughtful meditations on home, nature, and family; it invites deep contemplation.
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