Microbursts by Elizabeth Reeder and Amanda Thomson

An honourable mention goes to Microbursts, a narrative non-fiction that wades into the grey void that is mortal illness, the shadow land between life and death. This is a celebration of familial love, coming to terms with the death of those closest to us and surviving. New experimental/hybrid publisher Prototype has an eye for original writing from the margins that deserves a wider audience. As this book deals with issues of family relationships and mortality Microbursts is relevant to each of us, this potent reflection on grief will resonate.

The book opens with an image, top of the page, a pencil sketch of a ridge, far off hills, set against an otherwise blank page. It’s an image that hints at the fragmentary nature of the text. These are Microbursts, a memoir unfolding in short passages of prose that express a single thought or examine a moment, gradually the book builds into a meditation on the passage of time, the relationship with our parents and the twilight world between life and death – caring, loss and grief. Similar to Subirana’s poetry these are intensely personal passages reflective of the universal experience. We all feel that grief is unique to us and we get wrapped up in it as if we are the first to experience it and yet we read someone else’s experience of pain and grief we can empathize as we realise we all go through the same emotional darkness to some degree. The first piece Between Places sets the scene, its a musing on the author’s time with her parents as they die. She has uprooted from Scotland to return to Chicago to care for them. The past comes back to inhabit the text and illustrations in the way it does when people have the cause to reflect on life.

“Genesis is a key pressed into butter, wax, something impressionable. It is clear like the bright call of waxwings was they trill from berry to branch in a clutch of days that can never be predicted. The beginning and the remembered. Remove it, cast it, palm it. Wait for the opportunity to put the key to use, and then pay attention as one surface communicates with another.”

The human is recognised in the landscape, the effects of time on the body, the alternative meaning of everything. A musing on the temporary nature of life, questioning the past; decline, care, decisions, emotions and objects, a battered wallet (her father’s), absence, stages of grief, anger, time spent with the wrong people, illness as a failing, death.

Microbursts draws on other writers for inspiration; reinterpreting, personalising, Rebecca Solnit:

“This is to say I don’t know. And I do. I am lost. I know how to be right here, as a daughter. I know this. And again and again I don’t know what to do in the minute, to move us out of that minute and successfully into the next one.”

Elizabeth Reeder, originally from Chicago, now lives in Scotland and is a lecturer in creative writing at the University of Glasgow. She has written two novels exploring the themes that echo so strongly in Microbursts.

Amanda Thomson is a visual artist and writer, also a lecturer at the University of Glasgow. Her work on themes of home, landscape, migration, and the natural world have featured in exhibitions nationally and internationally. Her book, A Scots Dictionary of Nature,

Prototype, 8/2/21
paperback, 9781913513061

This is a reprint of the review featured on NB Magazine 29/1/21

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