Thursday, November 9, 2017

Review: Heating and Cooling by Beth Ann Fennelly

OK, a little bit of real talk here. $23.00 for a slender, little, less than 100 pages of text, hard cover book of "micro-memoirs"? What insanity is this? Surely this is a ridiculous price for something so physically insubstantial, right? I mean, the book, even with the bulk of the hard cover, is but the size of a paperback and with those few pages, well... And yet in my usual inimitable fashion, I ignored the price and bought it anyway. I can say that it was worth every penny. I read aloud from it to people I was with the weekend I bought it and raved with an unseemly enthusiasm, even to people who clearly wished me to stuff a sock in it already. Mississippi state poet laureate Beth Ann Fennelly's Heating and Cooling, a collection of "micro-memoirs," tiny memoirs akin to short stories or flash fiction, is funny and thoughtful, real and subtle, surprising and economical. She shares insights into her life in childhood and as an adult, into her marriage, into her parenting, and into memory, and she manages to do it in fewer words than I'm likely to use in this review.

Each micro-memoir is a short, tiny jewel, self-contained and complete within itself but a vital part of the whole. The book is not arranged chronologically and each piece runs from one sentence to no more than five pages. Fennelly's prose is spare and succinct and each word and idea are carefully considered with perfect turns of phrase. The book is deceptively simple, each instance building on the previous one, until the full impact of the memoir hits you. Some of the pieces are delightful, full of joy and love, and some are disturbing, telling of terrible, hidden things. My personal favorite will have me checking page 50 in all of my books for a long time to come. Bit by glorious bit each brief part reveals something more about Fennelly and about the experiences in life that have made her who she is. I couldn't stop turning the pages even as I willed myself to slow down and savor the writing. In the blink of an eye I'd come to the end of this magnificent, intimate book wishing that Fennelly lived next door to me so we could be friends. Read it. You won't be sorry.


  1. Hey, wow, so happy I stumbled upon this review! Awesome, thanks! Come move next door. It's for sale.
    --Beth Ann


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