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A Southern Merry Go Round
By Gretchen Gales
As a native Southerner, I appreciate authentic approaches to our unique genre of music, folktales, and other art. The South has many rich and many complicated legacies. All That Held Us by Henrietta Goodman, winner of the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry, is a fresh new take on that same legacy, but from a personal and feminine standpoint.
While I wouldn't paint All That Held Us as a total Southern Gothic piece, its haunting and lyrical words weave a tale of strange connections. Each page starts with a variation of the ending line of the last, and revolves around the lingering of unfinished memories. It all starts with a perceived wrong from the maternal line of the speaker's family, critiquing the double-standard of women's and men's bodies. It unwinds into sharp cultural observations intertwining with trauma and a Bildungsroman of budding sexuality and understanding of the impact of a strongly maternal lineage. More precisely, it concurrently follows the antics of a mother who is only together with the speaker's father part-time, an aunt with a hoarding and possessiveness problem, and a girl trying to keep it together.
This book is for anyone who has ever felt the need to feel held by a common bond when things seem like they are falling apart. Or maybe for the ones who avoid talking about the painful reality to avoid severing the rest of a strange, thinning bond. In short, it is something that highlights a new kind of Southern experience while balancing a universal practice of remembering the power of buried memories.
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