Still opens with a quote from John Updike: “He wonders if he’s lying. If he is, he is hung in the middle of nowhere, and the thought hollows him.” This line sets the stage for the “middles” Winner will be exploring, specifically the middle—the no-man’s-land—of faith that she has unexpectedly and undesirably found herself in.
She says that she has “arrived at a middle” after the death of her mother and her divorce. Disoriented and wandering, Winner writes her way through the passage back to some kind of sure ground when all she had considered sure was lost.
In a word, Winner is brilliant and will make you smarter for reading this book. Her intentionality with language, her respect for her craft, her subtle choices—all of this nuance is poetic and also academic and also accessible.
I don’t know how she pulls all that off exactly, but it is a rare gift. The kind of thing that doesn’t just happen. An author connects with a reader in the ways that Winner has through skill, intuition, and lots and lots of revision. At least that last one is what I’m choosing to believe.
I so resonated with her interaction with poets throughout the book. Just loved. The language of poetry is so aching and I love that. As I talked about in a previous post, we access something very profound when we read something or watch something or see something that puts us in touch with our longing. Anne Sexton, Emily Dickinson . . . these are some of the poets Winner spends time with that help her translate her longing. And, by proxy, ours as well.
The first two sections of the book follow the calendar, loosely, from Thanksgiving to Easter—a technique that works so well. Then, in the last section, the chronological organization drops off and we are brought through a series of moments, the lights coming on for Winner slowly through different means. All of this worked for me.
One of my very favorite sections was the author Q&A after the book officially ends. I was totally enthralled. Winner talks about how she made key decision in the writing of the book—how she decided to structure the book (I paid especially close attention here because I’m wrestling through some of the same questions in my own proposal), what she omitted and why, her muses, her thoughts on genre. Much more than an afterthought, this interview will appeal especially to fellow writers looking to see into Winner’s choices with the material.
The book is melancholy, to be sure. Yet it is also hopeful in very real and one-foot-in-front-of-the other sorts of ways.
Also, the entire book, I wanted to become Episcopalian.
This book is the perfect choice for someone who needs a companion in the middle ground, the gray, the soup. (In other words, all of us.) Winner is an honest and inspiring guide out of the pitch-black darkness.