Still, a glorified journal is confined by the limits of its own scope. Zaman’s writing seems to have inspired her — she tells us so — but it’s too navel-gazing to inspire the reader. “I have lived a startling, beautiful life. I have survived and continued not because of confidence but because I have a confidante. Call thyself any name thou wish. Imaginary friend, art, muse, reader, guardian angel, higher self, inner voice, God. … You, myself, this, we are a truth.”
By Sophia Shalmiyev
Zaman’s memoir is merely good, but it’s streaks ahead of Sophia Shalmiyev’s “Mother Winter.” Shalmiyev has a lot to say: She is a Russian immigrant to America, the daughter of a lost alcoholic mother and a dark, abusive father. But what she says she says with so much I-am-woman-hear-me-roar abandon, it was all I could do not to avert my gaze out of delicacy for her, if not for myself.
“That night, in bed with my boyfriend,” she writes at one point, “I felt a certain kind of desperate passion — like a cheetah attacking a water buffalo — amplified by him being monotone and withholding.” Cheetahs and water buffaloes don’t exist in nature together, for a start. Still, not 30 pages later we’re told: “A rhino hunted for its ivory runs in fear of captivity. She knows not whether the gun pointed at her from the chopper is to kill her or is a stun gun to knock her out and take her to safety.”
Rhinos have horns, not ivory. These are pointless, sloppy sentences, and they highlight the central problem of this book. Shalmiyev has plenty of genuine self-concern, but beyond herself she seems capable of thinking only in stereotypes; she can’t see beyond her own suffering let alone get her readers there. “What if the name of the town and country you were born in changed after you left? What if you lived in three different countries within a year right before you hit puberty?” This reader’s response to that rhetorical question is: It’s the memoirist’s job to figure out those basic questions, and then write us your considered answers.
Finding Hope in the High Country
By Pam Houston
Which brings me to Pam Houston’s regrettable “Deep Creek.” It’s ostensibly the story of the lifesaving properties of her high-elevation ranch in Colorado, although there’s not much to cultivate up there in the long winters except, apparently, self-delusion and acres of self-satisfied contradictions.