Reading, Writing, and Loss

September brought twin pains. First: a call that my cousin died. The next day: our family cabin went on the market. In the months before, my family grew contentious. Conversations devolved into unwinnable contests about who loved who and what more. Then Kali was gone, and in the same week, so was the place I loved. The sudden permanence wrecks me.

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Of course, I read a lot in 2019. For my jobs, and for distraction. I consumed so many stories. More than a book a week, which makes this one of my more productive reading years. I spent many cold nights in the bathtub with an audiobook, cranking the faucet to almost a scald, as if I could bank the excess heat. I reread J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potters. I listened to Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. My bathtub reads trend toward YA. …

Doing the Work When My Brain Wouldn’t

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2018 found me aphasic, trying to read, write, and pretend I was fine while my language skills unraveled. This was a side effect of the drug, Topamax, prescribed to me for migraines and epilepsy. I lost nouns, verbs, and names. Not great for a critic. I spent most of the year stymied and confused. Aphasia is a beautiful word, isn’t it? It’s also called Dysnomia; the language of losing language is cruelly euphonic. It was a long, unsure time. Thankfully, a second opinion changed my diagnosis and allowed me to quit the drug. …

Shawn Vestal’s novel, Daredevils, centers on agency; particularly, the agency of women and children within fundamentalist and polygamist Mormon enclaves. With beautiful and insightful syntax, Vestal details the life of Loretta — rebellious, sexual, normal teenage girl — and her betrothal (at her parents’ insistence, as a punishment for sneaking out with a boy) to a polygamist leader of her community with a burgeoning family. Set in the 1970’s, Vestal’s novel shows affection for both a bygone era and the pace of smaller town life in Idaho and Arizona. The author writes people of faith — whether in prayer or reverent, secular fandom — with respectful scrutiny. Though Daredevils’ messages about growing up, choosing one’s own path, and rejecting the patriarchal mores of farm and religion are clear, Daredevils stays primarily in safe emotional territory. This is the milquetoast coming of age of an underage polygamist bride; Loretta’s arranged marriage is more a function of setting than of pressing conflict. What she wants is her own car, the open road. Choice. …

My brief affair with stolen ideas

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In 1995, I was assigned an Interpretive Essay (capital I, capital E) about Harper Lee’s characterization in To Kill a Mockingbird. This was tenth grade, Honors English 10. I was a reader, I was a teacher-pleaser, and I was already a writer, though I knew nothing about controlling the rate or structure of my words. I couldn’t not write, for what that’s worth, but I had no idea how to be serious or academic. Before 1995 I’d never heard words like symbolism, archetype, or white privilege.


Heather Scott Partington

Book critic, teacher.

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