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Jenny Forrester Widens The River, Brightens The Sky

jenny forrester

image via pendulinepress.com/

 

On a night of ash falling across Portland, Willamette Writers gathered inside the Old Church. Wildfires be damned, they came and listened to Jenny Forrester talk about her burning memoir, Narrow River, Wide Sky.

 

I’ve never been more prepared to hear an author talk it out. First because my exchange student came with me, second because I’d already read the book.

 

That never happens.
Ali Shaw of Indigo recommended two books to guide my own memoir about neck cancer. One of them was by Jenny Forrester. While I didn’t see the connection at first, I’m slow on these things, now I do.

 

From amazon:
“Forrester’s debut memoir is a lyrical account of coming of age as a woman in the West. Amid urgent geography, aching choices, and uncertain faith, Forrester explores the moments and forces that hold us together and shape our lives. This family flickers on the page like a constellation; Forrester is both a star unto herself and an inextricable part of the glowing whole.” ‾Megan Kruse, author of Call Me Home

 

A Willamette Writer in the audience asked Jenny Forrester what her mother would have thought of the book. The answer? She would have been mortified, which is the goal of memoir in particular, and writing in general.

 

Mortification is the stock in trade. If we wanted to read bland, no conflict, no color writing, we’d stop reading altogether and the print industry would shrivel and die like it’s been rumored for years. Except it’s not due to writers like Jenny Forrester.

 

Before you decide to jump into writing a memoir the includes family, consider Jenny’s account of her brother after he read Narrow River: “Call it fiction and change my name,” was his first reaction. Then he let it ride like a good brother should.

 

Family memoir is tough. Not everyone gets it. I wrote a post on boomerpdx titled ‘Does Your Family Hate You Enough. Get Busy.’ 

 

Somehow my Mom discovered the post and didn’t like it. How much dislike? She could barely walk by then, but she dragged me to the woodshed and told me how much. She hated it, which wasn’t the point I was making by using fictional families as examples, like the Corleone Family.

 

Yes, I rewrote it for Momma. She didn’t seem completely mortified, but just enough to get up and walk me down, which I scored as a win for physical therapy if nothing else. I quizzed family members about how she found my post. I knew I’d gone too far when one of them unfriended me on facebook.

 

“This is a moving memoir about how the influence of family can remain long after people drift apart, and how one never truly forgets the circumstances of one’s childhood….scenes truly read as if from a work of literary fiction, with an excellent sense of place that makes the town into a character. Forrester doesn’t gloss over the difficult parts of her life, but rather tells stories of how that adversity formed a stronger individual.” ‾ Jeff Fleischer,Foreword Reviews

 

When Jenny Forrester explained how she started writing Narrow River, Wide Sky, I saw a picture in my mind. She said she wrote each piece as small vignettes, then cut them up and pasted them together in a chronological order.

 

I saw the paper strip inside broken Chinese fortune cookies with her story across each one.

 

Toward the end of a nice night where smoke and ash filled the air, Jenny Forrester fanned it away with a hoped for response every memoir writer dreams of when a family member reads about themselves: “Now I understand. You’re right and I’m wrong.”

 

“Jenny Forrester’s characters are as enigmatic as the landscape they inhabit―at once rugged and sensitive, impoverished and patriotic, hungry and enduring. This is a voice of the American West we’ve rarely heard before; a deeply intelligent story that asks, again and again, what it means to belong in a world that wants to erase you.” ‾Ariel Gore, author of The End of Eve

 

That’s our world today. To those who want to lose the people who belong here, bring an extra box of erasers.
About David Gillaspie
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