Pages: 200 Size: 5.5x8.5
Illustrations: 5 black-and-white images
Mortality, With Friends is a collection of lyrical essays from Fleda Brown, a writer and caretaker, of her father and sometimes her husband, who lives with the nagging uneasiness that her cancer could return. Memoir in feel, the book muses on the nature of art, of sculpture, of the loss of bees and trees, the end of marriages, and among other things, the loss of hearing and of life itself.
Containing twenty-two essays, Mortality, With Friends follows the cascade of loss with the author’s imminent joy in opening a path to track her own growing awareness and wisdom. In "Donna," Brown examines a childhood friendship and questions the roles we need to play in each other’s lives to shape who we might become. In "Native Bees," Brown expertly weaves together the threads of a difficult family tradition intended to incite happiness with the harsh reality of current events. In "Fingernails, Toenails," she marvels at the attention and suffering that accompanies caring for our aging bodies. In "Mortality, with Friends," Brown dives into the practical and stupefying response to her own cancer and survival. In "2019: Becoming Mrs. Ramsay," she remembers the ghosts of her family and the strident image of herself, positioned in front of her Northern Michigan cottage.
Comparable to Lia Purpura’s essays in their density and poetics, Brown’s intent is to look closely, to stay with the moment and the image. Readers with a fondness for memoir and appreciation for art will be dazzled by the beauty of this collection.
I have long felt that Fleda Brown the poet had an utterly unparalleled capacity to meld keen intellect, extending even to hard science, with exquisite lyrical sensibility. To read these essays, at once heart-rending and reassuring, is to affirm that that capacity applies to her prose as well. It is not mere hyperbole to say that the woman is matchless, whatever her genre.
– Sydney Lea, Vermont poet laureate (2011–2015)
Mortality, with Friends endeavors to gather, to slightly misquote Leonard Cohen’s trope, ‘gather up the brokenness and bring it to [us] now.’ In an age of isolation, Fleda Brown beckons us to draw near and pay heed to the heart’s joyous and sorrowful mysteries, the heart’s bewilderments, into the maw of which she tenders a ‘countervalent language.’ This is balm, a splendid feat in essaying; an orderliness, which feels, if not like healing, a sort of palliative against the ineluctable feature of humanity, to wit: we die.
– Thomas Lynch, author of The Depositions and Bone Rosary
In Fleda Brown’s Mortality,with Friends, every life form ‘deserves its own kind of honor’: the ordinary and extraordinary, the tiny and massive, the political and personal, even an impossibly difficult father residing in that ‘deep interior wound we call parent.’ Like the sailboat of her childhood whose ‘sail breathes the breath of forms,’ Brown’s arresting essays set off to catch the ‘pattern of disruption’of memory’s ever-changing currents.
– Rebecca McClanahan, author of In the Key of New York City: A Memoir in Essays
Fleda Brown is a writer who cannot look away. In Mortality, with Friends, she probes the deep extent of love by way of loss, and in this way honors the hard truths of living. There is sorrow in these pages, but reading I also kept thinking of Dylan Thomas, his line ‘Light breaks where no sun shines.’
– Sven Birkerts, author of Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet Age
How is it possible to so fiercely and so lovingly hold and shape the truth of a life? I read these essays hungrily, with the attention one pays a trusted guide, and with the deep pleasure one receives from a poet continually stunned into language.
– Lia Purpura, author of All the Fierce Tethers
Mortality, with Friends is neither mind-numbingly bleak nor unrealistically cheery; it is honest and emotional, written a lyrical element adding an ever-so-slightly poetic touch to its insights. Highly recommended.
– Susan Bethany, Midwest Book Review