Oct/Nov 2022  •   Reviews & Interviews

Halfway from Home: Essays

Review by Courtney Ludwick

Halfway from Home: Essays.
Sarah Fawn Montgomery.
Split/Lip Press. 2022. 192 pp.
ISBN 978-1-952897-25-2.

Forests are burning. Crucial pollinators are dying. Disease is spreading. Grief is an inherited family heirloom. In an essay collection equal parts memory dig and cultural critique, Sarah Fawn Montgomery's Halfway from Home excavates the past so present injustices don't remain buried. But how do we keep from suffocating in the wreckage we've already made? If human nature is to consume and destroy, the collection seems to suggest we must go against our instinct if we hope to survive. Montgomery writes:

As a child, I dug for bones in my backyard. A chicken wing or steak bone gnawed by a dog that was not mine. Tossed out scraps. I tried to piece together the stories, to fit bone to bone to resurrect what had been broken. Once I found a whole wishbone and—as if by instinct—snapped it with satisfaction.

I would call the collection nostalgic, but for a time that never existed. Exploring her childhood, Montgomery discovers memory can't always be trusted. In retrospect, parents become imperfect. Old scars are more clearly seen. Collective histories are dug up and rewritten and buried again. Of privilege, there is some mention; yet, the collection remains infused with longing as it reflects on an increasingly fractured world. In the book's latter half, Montgomery's continuous search for "home" confronts such a paradox: seeking solace from the present in an on-fire past.

Historical research, biblical allusions, and artwork comparisons supplement Montgomery's personal experiences and help break up the collection's trancelike narrative. In several of the essays, poetic sensibilities and repeated imagistic meditations create a lull that, for this reader, bring a numbness eerily similar to what "doom scrolling"' can feel like. Still, whether intentional or not, it is when abstract language gives way to concrete memory, probably best done in "Taking Stock" or "In Flames,"—a piece coincidentally discussing how we have become numb to our own burning—that Montgomery is at her best and makes the reader audibly gasp.

Fittingly, the last essay, "Practicing Goodnight," says goodbye in more ways than one, offering a glimpse of what healing and moving forward looks like while also begging the world (see also, the United States' consumption culture) to listen to the earth's warning signs and wake-up call. If you've ever had someone tell you they can feel a coming storm in their bones, then you'll recognize the ache and longing and fear Halfway from Home rings like a warning bell—or a never-ending fire alarm everyone has learned to ignore. What price are we willing to accept for the earth's death? Montgomery asks. What price are we going to pay for ours? Halfway from Home wants to know.


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