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Date finished: January 27, 2019

Rating: ★★★★

Ordinary Light, Tracy K. Smith

Smith writes beautiful poetry (I’m a particular fan of Wade in the Water), and I couldn’t wait to read her narrative work in the form of a memoir. While it often seems that authors (especially those who write fiction as a profession) write memoirs for their fans, as a way to give their readers a glimpse into the life of someone they admire and look up to, Smith writes in a way that feels very private and removed from her audience, which I found particularly compelling.

Ordinary Light centers around Smith’s relationship with her mother, and she tells the story of her own youth to adulthood while delicately weaving in the ways her mother affected nearly every aspect of her life.

Smith’s intention was to use this memoir as a way to introduce her children to her mother (since they will sadly never meet), and the attention to detail is heartrending. She touches on her mother’s habits, moods, feelings, and youth, while returning to her own feelings and fears (especially in regards to disappointing her family).

In a way I wasn’t expecting to appreciate as much as I did, Smith also entwines God into the narrative, and details the changing relationships both she and her mother have with Him over the course of their lives.

As a poet, Smith excels at creating a narrative that is both compelling and beautifully written:

“I felt, rising up out of my fear, the thrill of that nameless going. It was neither the end of one chapter nor the beginning of another but rather a deep, vacant, weightless Now that would last as long as it lasted and lead to wherever it led.”

Ordinary Light is an exemplary memoir that deals with race, grief, love, religion, growing up, and forging your own way in the world. Highly recommend.

Photo courtesy @stephinacardigan (Instagram)

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