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Review of

Deborah Tall's A Family of Strangers

Sarabande Books, 2006 

By Amy Lee Scott

“Remembering is an ethical act…memory is, achingly, the only relation we can have with the dead…”

It was cold in Utah. No, it was more than that—it was sleet-slick panes, drafty hallways, toes shrinking in thin cotton socks. It was a fireplace that would not, for all my crumpled offerings, light. It was the Night Before Christmas, without the kitschy caps and clicking hooves, with me in a sorry fleece cocoon leaking tears onto the pages of A Family of Strangers, waiting for the shuttle that would take me an hour north to a plane that would fly me away from these bleary Rocky Mountains, over the smudged Midwestern plains, the stubborn Mississippi, and would finally land in the city of brotherly love where my tired picaresque could stop because my brother-in-law waited, heater blasting in his new family-sized vehicle equipped with sturdy wipers and four-wheel drive, to take me home. Well, my sister’s home, all warmth and toddler-sized chairs.

My suitcase and I clunked upstairs where my childhood bed hewn from clean-smelling oak was mantled in my grandmother’s afghan. It was so dearly and effortlessly domestic that I wanted to cry, or maybe dance, to softshoe memories out of my anatomic silence and onto the hardwood floor. I wanted to call old friends just to hear their voices, their smiles through the mouthpiece. To feel connected to those seemingly hazy elements of my past so that I might piece together my own familial composition of “ragged” fragments. So that I might stitch my diasporic heart onto the hem of grade school memories, when my mother—not yet wan, drawn bald from cancer treatments—would smooth my snarled hair and dance with me in the kitchen, neverminding how our tap-shoe scuffs sent jumbled Morse code tumbling from beneath our toes and across the shining linoleum.

But tonight, I did not dance, I did not phone. I folded my luggage and winter coat into the closet, pulled out my laptop, and waited for it to hum its greeting which sounded, tonight, a lot like
“a-letheia,”
which means, Deborah Tall reminds, “not forgetting.” I pulled my grandmother’s afghan close and listened to the quiet, breathing. “If there had been anything more than silence, would I have felt the need to speak in the first place?”


 

Amy Lee Scott recently graduated from Brigham Young University. She hopes to enter a Master's creative writing program after her internship with the Smithsonian American Art Museum.