Book Review: Out of the Dust (apple Signature Edition) by Karen Hesse
by Peter Menkin 1/18/2009 / Book Reviews
Wonderful book; a treasure
I would like to tell you about my desire to review a book that has been reviewed time and again, most likely. I am sure it will be reviewed by others as many people have noted it. This is a little about the small hardback: Here on the pages of the poetic "Out of the Dust: A Novel" are found the words to savor about our willing struggle to live within the travails that we encounter, even the most horrible. The gift of heart and hope, by daily endurance, and the simple recognition of our immediate lives lived within the labour of life is written as a statement of love about Bill Jo, who is a 14 year old girl. This is a children's book, and the writer is Karen Hesse (a poet, truly).
There are so many good things about this book, including the way the book is divided into sections, like separate poems. These poems read like prose, and they go together to tell a story. My desire concerns the subject of blame. On page 70 there is a part in the book about the life of the girl who is the voice of this novel. She tells about herself, in a way that I remember my own mother telling me about herself. I would like to remember many of the things that my mother and father told me about when I was young. Some of these things like the blame in their lives, the story of their parents, and the story of the parents of their parents are things of remembrance that I ponder now that I am older. These treasured and important memories make up a weaving that is the fabric of our conception of the way we can and will live in the world. This book of poetic history does this for the reader.
Here is what Karen Hesse writes about in the poem "Blame." She says, or rather the girl who is telling the story to us says:
"My father's sister came to fetch my brother,
even as Ma's body cooled.
She came to bring my brother back to Lubbock
to raise as her own,
but my brother died before Aunt Ellis got here.
She wouldn't even hold his little body.
She barely noticed me.
As soon as she found my brother dead,
Had a talk with my father.
Then she turned around
And headed back to Lubbock."
My desire to reflect on the joy that this tells me about is a mystery to me, because this poem is so sad. You would think that there is just the tears, and the poor little boy, and the missing Aunt (father's sister). I can think of so many times of blame in my day, and in my life. I recall a blame where a man I was visiting in a rest home called Pleasant Care, died. I blamed the facility, I blamed his family for leaving him alone, and I blamed the doctors who made a decision to pull the plug at his family's request. Yet somehow in this story about her brother being fetched by her father's sister, there is a sense of being in touch, and being loved. I sense that in this deep conversation that fourteen year old Billie Jo is holding, there is a conversation she is making with us and God that we continue to hold with ourselves, through friends, throughout our lives.
This kind of desire to remain in joy, to find that we can weep in sorrow and continue in joy in our lives is a remarkable thing about life. Billie Jo lets nothing separate her from God, not dust storms, not the silence of her father, not the tragedy of the accident that caused her mother's death. I think about this book, and I believe that you will find it something worth reading. Purchase this book, if you will, and you will discover on its pages a rich consortium of faith, and living in a way that is both simple and yet at the same time filled with the complexity of the fabric that makes up our lives every day. There is a desire within us all to be thankful about living, and my desire is to introduce you to a small book that has a prize medal on the cover that says it was given to the writer "for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children." Certainly you will find, as have I, that there is so much merit in this slim volume that you will find it one of the treasures that you want to give some special award of your own.
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, a novel, is a book of our desire to live in this world. How brand new the world is every day, and what a wonderful gift of desire is offered on the pages of this book including subjects like "Birth" ("One morning when I arrive at school/Miss Freeland says to keep the kids out,/that the baby is coming..."), "Dust Storm" ("I kept along. I know that there were others/on the road,/from time to time I'd hear someone cry out..." and "Midnight Truth" ("I am so filled with bitterness..."
When I say this is a children's book, I mean that it is a book about what it is to be a child. That is all of my desire, to tell you that this book helps one to continue on in a journey of life as a child or as an adult.
--Peter Menkin, Mill Valley, CA USA
Peter Menkin, an aspiring poet, lives in Mill Valley, CA USA where he writes poetry. He is an Oblate of Immaculate Heart Hermitage, Big Sur, CA and that means he is a Camaldoli Benedictine. He is 64 years of age as of 2010.