The Faraway Nearby

By Rebecca Solnit
Penguin Books, © 2014
ISBN 978-0143125495, 272 pages

Like I said before, I don’t usually read memoirs. At least, I haven’t in the past. This is my second one this month, and I have to say I may be changing my mind. Though I have to say that this isn’t exactly a memoir. It is, but not really. When you read it, you’ll see what I mean.

From stories of her mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s to her own brush with cancer, the author weaves an intimate narrative about personal trauma and family relationships in such a way that we see the beauty amid the chaos, the poetry in the pain. Solnit’s ability to connect seemingly random and disparate elements amazed me, as did her insight. She seems to see right to the heart of things, touching the delicate pulse of truth beneath layers of superfluous camouflage with surprising power and sensitivity. More than once I would have sworn she was speaking directly to me; her words were that apropos to my own experience, that synchronistic to my own journey. Each time I felt her at my shoulder and had to put the book down for a while, so that I might fully absorb the impact of her words.

Throughout the book, Solnit demonstrates the importance in our lives of the stories we tell ourselves. With a true sense of artistry, she lays words like breadcrumbs that lead us toward understanding. Gently, she challenges us as readers to examine our own stories, to recognize their power to nurture love or fear, forgiveness or spite, empathy or anger, recovery or suffering. Her words coax us to believe that perhaps, if we are willing to see our stories for what they are and what they bring to our worlds, we can make new stories that bridge the extremes and lead to healing.

This is not an easy read. Its subject matter is far too thought-provoking. The Faraway Nearby is more a book to savor slowly, with a cup of tea or a glass of wine, perhaps on a quiet balcony or in a comfortable nook. And when you’ve finished it and put it down, keep it handy. It reveals itself in layers as you go, and will likely offer different insights with each pass, so you’ll want to read it again and again.