Terry Tempest Williams
Pantheon Books, 2008
The book begins with Williams’s time in Ravenna, Italy learning the the art of laying mosaic. She mixes poetry into sentences and then bludgeons one with the stark blunt style of a shattered and traumatized storyteller who wants only to get through the story. At times the combination felt like she was trying to sound like a fact teaching journalist and a lost soul who couldn’t quite tell us why she felt that way. The book didn’t make sense to either one of us, but I was curious and on her journey, so I sat in the back seat and listened.
The second segment was a stint of time spent with a scientific group studying Utah Prairie Dogs in Bryce Canyon National Park. There were some great parts as she explained to this novice the motivations and arguments of preserving and not preserving prairie dog towns. Her detailed observation notes for scientific research were dotted with information that turned the prairie dog into a noticeable creature worthy of value. Now I know how they help prevent soil erosion, she’s helped me imagine them facing the sun, raising their babies and kissing, so often kissing. As the book moved on I thought it was unfortunate her scientific talent at detailed reporting and recording from being a journalist and employee of museums wasn’t edited to keep the attention of a normal reader in a book for popular consumption.
The next broken shard of her mosaic is introducing her family and telling us of her brother’s lymphoma. She weaves it with stories of a family business in the land of nuclear testing downwinders. Slowly, the word mosaic takes shape.