Great River Road: Memoir and Memory

greatriverroadMadelon Sprengnether
New Rivers Press ($17)

Madelon Sprengnether is a student of memory. Throughout her new memoir, Great River Road, she calls on some of the heavy hitters of the subject—Freud, Proust, neuroscientists—to bolster what she knows from self-study: that past, present, and even future are a flux of experience. In the book’s insightful preface, she describes her book as “an extended meditation on how we make our way through our later lives, incorporating bits and pieces of the ones we’ve already lived, how the remembered past suffuses and enriches the present moment, and how we might imagine a life as an ongoing creation that aims toward a vision of something meaningfully integrated if not whole.” The value placed on integration here isn’t just theoretical but alludes to the trauma of the author’s father’s drowning when she was a girl, which interrupted her sense of being a coherent self and ultimately shaped her interest in this field. The book proves most moving when the reader is able to appreciate how sincere and profound the search for a coherent self-history is for Sprengnether, but too often the reader remains at a remove from the power and significance of the events themselves. Still, Sprengnether is a natural memoirist; she seeks meaning in the stuff of her life (travel, romantic relationships, family) and attempts to build a sturdy self from what she finds.

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