The Book: This is a compilation of short writings by Ms. Cresswell that includes short stories, entries from her travel journal, first chapters of two books, a book review, and other fragments of narration. The sections are not connected, that is, they do not form a whole, but give an excellent sampling of Ms. Cresswell’s writing.
Theme of the book
There is a thread of sadness and isolation that runs through each of the selections in The Book. We see it in the short stories The Book and Many Rooms in which characters are seemingly stuck with unfulfilling lives. It is present in the travel writing, both in the narrator’s own life and in the lands she visits. Even in the ‘fragments’ (The Axbys of Top Farm) and in the first chapter of Lost Boys (Opening Day) and of Tiger in a Cage (Very Kind Eyes) the reader will feel the underlying sadness and loneliness of the characters portrayed. Only the review Stoner, the travel episode Baseball for Beginners, and Grave Secrets show a wry humor that is greatly appreciated.
What I Liked About the story
For this reviewer, the best writing in The Book comes in Ms. Cresswell’s travel journal entries. In the short story, The Lake we find the author “holed up” as she says in a motel not too far from Lake Michigan. We do not know why she is isolating herself. The only hint she gives is “the devastated wasteland of ruined relationships” that preceded her trip. Every reader will understand the need for solitude Ms. Cresswell expresses. Her gradual exploration of the motel, the surrounding area and finally the lake are mirrored in her forgiveness of herself.
Ms. Cresswell captures perfectly the space and the emptiness of parts of the American Midwest. She walks for miles without seeing another pedestrian; she sees no one in the residential areas she reaches. This emptiness and isolation are similar to the small Texas town she describes in Texas where the road divides “nothing from nothing”. There is not only physical isolation, but cultural isolation as well with almost all town life revolving around one of the many Christian churches. Ms. Cresswell is right to say that this small Texas town is certainly not the USA of the movies. It is, however, the USA that propelled Donald Trump to the White House and thus deserves to be described and understood.
Other highlights of The Book are The Axbys of Top Farm and On the Peach Side of Apricot. The latter, particularly, is a slice of real life and it is easy to recognize the characters from our own experiences.
What I Didn’t Like About the story
While the travel journals are excellent, Ms. Cresswell’s short stories, The Book and Many Rooms are not terribly original in theme. The Book has an excellently written main character but a plot that is more typical of a student writer than of a professional. The twist at the end is predictable. In Many Rooms we are again treated to well-drawn characters and beautiful descriptions only to be let down by a less than original plot.
A small criticism: in the edition I received on my Kindle, the table of contents (under ‘Go To’ in the Kindle commands) had no relation to what was actually in the book. This may have been due to uploading problems, but it certainly made it hard to find and re-read selections I particularly liked.
Ms. Cresswell is a marvelous writer. Her facility with language, with images, and with dialogue make her book a moving and fascinating glimpse into her work. Readers unfamiliar with Ms. Cresswell’s writing will find The Book a very good place to start.