Solnit’s explorations shimmer with insight, from her description of: “the mother who gave herself away to everyone or someone and tried to get herself back from a daughter” to the passing observation that Mary Wollstonecraft, the mother of Frankenstein’s maker, “died of birth,” to the pronouncement that “Books are solitudes in which we meet.”
Everything is pregnant with its opposite. A mother with Alzheimer’s, for instance, is the nearby faraway. So it’s fitting, perhaps, to close this review not with a discussion of the satisfying ending but instead with the table of contents. That page is laid out so the type forms a sideways V, like a flock flying home or away — a journey that’s transformed in its recursion.
The first and last chapters share a title (“Apricots”), as do the second and penultimate (“Mirrors”), the third in and third out (“Ice”) and so on; the next-to-middle most chapters are “Wound” and “Unwound.” Only the central chapter, “Knot,” is paradoxically not doubled. The appearance of the page itself suggests duality. That V could be an arrow of instinctive formation — or it could, on second look, be a wishbone, an avian clavicle we crack in half for fortune, a future we desire to write.
“All stories are really fragments of one story,” Solnit writes, “the metamorphoses.” In The Faraway Nearby, as with all good tales, it is the reader who is changed.
Dawn Raffel reviewed this book for The San Francisco Chronicle.