Written by Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Published by AmErica House
Review by Judith Woolcock Colombo
We stroll through a garden, we take a museum tour, or we look through a friend’s family album. These are all quick glances at the bits and pieces that make up the whole. However, Harkening: A Collection Of Stories Rememberedby Carolyn Howard-Johnson is more than a mere glimpse of the whole. Each story is like the petal of a rose, perfect and unique, an entity unto itself. When merged together each petal becomes more than itself. It becomes the rose superb and perfect.
Harkening presents us with the rose petal by petal. They are memories emerging from a woman’s mind, recollections of her childhood or of stories handed down to her with love. The unique perspective of the person telling it colors each story. “Most stories came filtered through one glass or another.”
There are stories that shock us. In Legacy an aging woman recalls discovering as a small child that her youngest aunt had syphilis, a legacy from one of her many lovers. She also discovers that her mother had an illegitimate child who disappeared. Stories such as Mama’s Depression move us with the triumph of the human spirit over poverty. In Child’s Play, Neighbors, What isn’t Lavender,and Remembering Winter, religious intolerance mars a child’s life. We are left stunned at the stupidity of an intolerant society and awed by the resilience of children to surmount hate and prejudice and to survive intact.
In Harkening, we relive childhood’s hurts and disappointments and revel in its triumphs, like learning to milk a cow. We wince in recognition of the mother, daughter conflict, but nevertheless, it intrigues us, and we wonder where the next story will lead.
Throughout the pages of Harkening, another story emerges. It is the story of Utah, the land of towering mountains, glorious lakes, gray desert plains, and shimmering white salt flats. It is the story of a land whose soil, according to the author, “Harbored the pulse and throb of her heritage.” This land nourishes, comforts, and punishes. It is part of its children’s lives. Utah is in Howard-Johnson’s blood. She cannot escape her great mother whom she both praises and damns, this nurturer and devastator. Without Utah the stories would lack the beauty and majesty that they now possess.
Harkening is a must read for anyone who loves the written word or wonderful stories told well. If you have read Howard-Johnson’s first novel This Is The Place and loved it, you will also love Harkening because these are the experiences from which the novel sprang. If you have never read This Is The Place, do so.
Judith Woolcock Colombo is the author of The Fablesinger, a fantasy set in the Caribbean and Night Crimes, a tale of mystery & suspense. Visit her website ore-mail her for information and sample chapters.