Author: Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Summary: The structure of this book felt random, while the mash-up of memoir with nature writing and the prose were hit or miss for me.
This book of nature essays blended with moments of memoir is poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s debut work of nonfiction. It’s also the first of the Kirkus Prize shortlisted books that I haven’t enjoyed. Part of this may be because I picked it up only knowing the title and that the book was on the shortlist. I expected a work focused on nature writing and didn’t enjoy the unexpected forays into memoir. I typically really enjoy books that are memoir + something else though and I think there are problems with this that would have bothered me regardless of expectations.
Most elements of this book were hit or miss for me. The writing was sometimes truly beautiful. Lovely nature descriptions seemed fitting from an author who’s also a poet. Sometimes the humor or wonder she found shown through in more informal descriptions of an animals appearance or habits. At other times, word choices seemed odd to me (‘after an especially plus amount of warm rain’, for example) or descriptions left me still unable to even picture the animal she described.
The way the memoir sections were combined with nature writing almost never worked for me. There were very few essays where I thought the nature writing and memoir were adequately connected. Sometimes a plant or animal was a small , non-essential part of the scene described in the memoir section. At other times, the relationship was even more tenuous. An example that particularly irked me was a chapter on eels. They were connected to the memoir section only because the author saw a similarity between their open-mouthed stair and her child’s constant, open-mouthed awe at the world.
The structure simply baffled me. Almost every section was named for an animal or plant, but several felt completely random. Some sections were almost all memoir, some were exclusively nature writing, others were a more even blend. The essays largely moved forward chronologically in her life, but that only made the breaks from this structure more confusing. I don’t think this lack of structure will bother every reader, but I particularly enjoy a clever pattern in the structure of a book. The randomness here did not work for me.
A few of the author’s stories made an emotional connection for me. A few animal descriptions did contain wonder-inducing new information or beautiful descriptions. Overall though, it’s a good thing this book was such a short one, because I was mostly bored and bewildered. Definitely at the bottom of my list for the Kirkus Prize and not a book I can recommend.