The Huffington Press has chosen this lilting book as the book they are "talking about this week.". It will certainly haunt me. The story that launches her current book is the loss of her mother to Alzheimer's, step by awful step. In her attempt to frame this reality, she nests the narratives that her mother has told herself and her own responsive attempts to organize reality. Her mother had not been a warm, or often even kind.
With a deft hand, Solnit weaves the doors and windows through which she travels into a mesmerizing story. As a child, she was a solitary person, but found that " books are solitudes in which we meet." ( possibly my favorite sentence in the book.). She shares the stories that have helped her to shape her own life and have in turn inspired her own writings. She had decided early on to never refuse an adventure, and she shares a few she had taken as relief and growth as the burden of her mother grew.
Solnit also speaks of the ways in which our interior dialogues can trap us. They can tell us who to love or hate. "Not a few stories are sinking ships." She believes among these tales are the ones that stiffened and distanced her mother into jealousy and aloofness. Somehow, the author successfully weaves the story of Frankenstein and the history of his creator into a meaningful, and even necessary, part of her own discourse. Along the way, Solnit goes to the "country where many go much further and some don't return." She has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
This is a literate book for the reader who loves a well crafted work. It is thoughtful, insightful, and even funny. It challenges the reader to evaluate one's own internal script and to open for the constant change of every context. This is a book that fills the promise of solitudes meeting.
on June 16, 2013
The Faraway Nearby, is the first work I have read by Rebecca Solnit. Far and away I am awestruck with her literary genius, and her genius in general. I did not agree with many of her views but that is neither here or there. Incomparable, is the only way to describe her incredible ability to put into word the abstract feelings and emotions written upon her psyche. Many of the feelings and emotions she shares are common to humankind, but few of us could come remotely close to putting these into acute focus with words, written or spoken.She shares that this book was written as an emergency, by the time you read that you will have already known that before she shares it in words. Dealing with her mothers disappearance into the mists of Alzheimer's, dealing with the trauma of surgery, possible breast cancer, the death of a dear friend, and the pain of a breakup with her boyfriend, wow, a walk on a thin line for any of us. I was left with the feeling that her emergency is still somewhat imminent. If so, may she find a light shining on the path that is to lead her to the steps of healing and metamorphosis to her higher self. A master of description, a rare gift of literary ability to her readers, Rebecca Solnit walks above the realm of the average gifted author.
on July 8, 2013
If ever a word in the English language was more fraught with meaning, misunderstanding and creative potential than story, I'd like to know it. Perhaps love is a close contender, but as Rebecca Solnit's THE FARAWAY NEARBY demonstrates with such compelling and quiet power, story and love are so intertwined that they could be accused of conflict of interest.
Solnit challenges the very roots of what our society, specifically a Western capitalist-consumerist one, identifies in its limited way around the concept of stories and personal narrative. Writing fact-based (or even fact-motivated) autobiography or memoir is one thing; writing about reflected experiences that are allowed the elastic freedom of truthful change and evolution is quite another. The landscape of Solnit's memory is almost a genre unto itself, a vast expanse in which the universal and intimate literally travel side by side.
On one level, THE FARAWAY NEARBY recounts Solnit's arduous journey through her estranged mother's final years, as Alzheimer's disease progressively disconnected her cognitive abilities and self-awareness. It wasn't simply a matter of arranging an elderly woman's life and affairs as she transitioned from independence to nursing home care. It was also about rearranging and reframing a deeply entrenched story of mother-daughter contention that had persisted from Solnit's earliest childhood and infected an otherwise very successful adult career. When mother and child roles were reversed, a new intimacy and understanding emerged that came as close as anything to reconciliation.
On other levels, this introspective masterpiece probes the often-avoided areas of failed and successful relationships, our delight and fear of the transcendent, the spiritual implications of serious illness, the always foreboding intimations of mortality, and the elusive quest for a definable and structured identity. The list sounds so contemporary, so self-absorbed, so same-old, and yet is anything but the pat and predictable kind of account that fills too much time on TV talk shows. As I learned from my first moments with THE FARAWAY NEARBY, the only way to do full justice to Solnit's far-reaching exploration of life's story is her intended medium --- the one-on-one relationship of turning pages and receptive mind.
Oddly enough, and strangely endearing, Solnit anchors her reflection around the unexpected and inconvenient "legacy" of an abundant crop of apricots from the tree at her mother's former home. The task of having to sort, discard, preserve and give away the enormous pile of fruit before it all dissolved into a bacterial mess on her floor is intricately woven into the complex fabric of simultaneously engaging and letting go. Chapters about apricots become the redemptive bookends of her storied journey, without limiting or even pretending to conclude things in a typically tidy, literary way.
While THE FARAWAY NEARBY could only emerge from Solnit's unique and unconventional life, it couldn't have become what it is without her inventive and meticulous absorption of myriad other stories, all of them filtered through the lens of her learning, experience, aspirations and self-confessed shortcomings. That lens takes on many colors and textures, sometimes soft and rose-tinted, other times gritty and harsh; still other views are cloudy and questioning, leaving their resolution an unsolved mystery.
If you've ever been skeptical about the primal power of the human narrative, ever wanted to leave the academic English-lit or professional psychotherapeutic highways that define story in rigid and sometimes pejorative terms, Rebecca Solnit will take you there in an amazing and memorable off-road journey.
Reviewed by Pauline Finch
on June 24, 2013
This book was billed in advance as similar to Solnit's book A Field Guide to Getting Lost, but that is misleading. This book touches on more pain, and the threads that run through it tie the book together more completely as a whole instead of a collection of essays. I liked both books, but The Faraway Nearby feels a little more mature in its acknowledgment of the sorrows and hardships of life. As always, Rebecca Solnit writes with inspired prose that seems always on the edge of becoming poetry. A marvelous book.
on August 4, 2013
I don't enjoy complying with the expectation to rate a purchase, but for this book, I'll make an exception--because it is exceptional. Solnit is an original thinker and her creative use of words and phrases is sheer alchemy. Plus, there are several visual treats in the makeup of the book.
on June 16, 2014
The author is an exceptionally gifted writer, and I love reading her work. It's by no means prosaic, but her insights and analogies are both poignant and down-to-earth while still being lyrical. The subject of the book often deals with very dark and somewhat disturbing topics and the authors normal and thorough descendance into them made the book difficult for me to read at times. Still, the final chapter was as transcendent and uplifting as any I have ever read. I will continue to read works from this author as I think she will prove to be one of the clearest voices of our times.
on October 27, 2015
While this is a lyrical and unique book- half memoir, half literary/cultural criticism - I did not connect with much of the author's issues related to her mother, or former boyfriend, or friend in crisis, or her own disease. This is because she is far too vague and lacking in any chunk of specifics in order to properly identify with her.
Passages regarding her travels also seem out of sorts with an otherwise cohesive work, compounding and building with each new piece of her puzzle, whether it is a historical figure, a work of art, or extended metaphor that is artfully carried well beyond its assumed shelf life.
on July 26, 2013
The layers and pacing to this collection of interwoven essays are each beautiful slices of life.
Working through Mother Daughter relationships that navigate hard times and dementia is just one of several powerful opportunities to think more and think deeper.
At times thinking about something big Solnit brings the elemental definition of words to the work, helping us be mindful of why things might be what they are.
I will read it a second and maybe a third time before passing it to friends.
on March 7, 2015
Solnit's writing compels you to savor it sentence by sentence, and her tone complements the words and never wavers. The section about the death of her mother is can't-put-it-down reading, and her writing about her breast cancer is compelling. About midway through, though, I got the sense that the author was just running laps instead of actually going somewhere. I bought it last summer, read it, and for some reason picked it up again last month—probably because I couldn't remember it from the summer. I liked it better the second time through but only got halfway through before losing interest.
on January 1, 2014
Rebecca Solnit opens The Faraway Nearby with 100 pounds of apricots, collected from her ailing mother's tree, ripening and rotting on Solnit's floor, a bequest and a burden as if from a fairy tale. The fruit was a story, she explains, and also "an invitation to examine the business of making and changing stories." So Solnit tells her own story. And shows how she escaped it by entering the wider world of others' stories, and how she changed her story as she better understood her unhappy mother and their bad relationship.
A key to this unusual book--which has the air of a classic about it--is the story in The Thousand and One Nights of the sultan who, cuckholded by his queen, decides to sleep with a new virgin every night and kill her in the morning. A woman, Scheherazade, volunteers to end the slaughter by telling the jealous man endless stories, distracting him with suspense so that he spares her life; in time she bears three sons, and he becomes less murderous. "Those ex-virgins who died were inside the sultan's story," Solnit writes. "Scheherazade, like a working-class hero, seized control of the means of production and talked her way out."
By the same token, there are almost too many stories in The Faraway Nearby to list. Solnit has said she's a collector of stray bits, her method bricolage. Using that clue illuminates her apparent working method: there's been a patient melding, with brief transitions for topic shifts. This makes for more demanding reading--less warning of new topics and less time for a reader's preparation. You're immersed a new story before you know it. I love this book, but at times I struggled to stay on track; some readers will get lost and bored and close the book. I much prefer the way Virginia Woolf, one of Solnit's influences here, grounds the reader in time and space or in the movement of her mind in A Room of One's Own.
Toward the end, Solnit returns to her mother and to her mother's end, to those apricots. Pared to its bones, she tells us, this book is the history of an emergency--her mother's traumatic decline--and of the stories that kept Solnit company then. But she tells us she'll resist the essayist's "temptation of a neat ending," and indeed she does. Questions flood in, a ripple effect of the book; her method, which meditates on meaning, doesn't always presume to supply it.