Cal­i­for­nia Calling: A Selfin­ter­ro­ga­tion

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews - MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER

Natalie Singer Hawthorne Books (MARCH) Soft­cover $18.95 (313pp) 978-0-9988257-1-7

“Cal­i­for­nia is a fa­ble. A fan­tasy. A fic­tion,” Natalie Singer writes of her adopted home. “A meta­mor­pho­sis.” So it was for the ex­plor­ers and prospec­tors who first clam­bered over the Sierra to find it; so it re­mains for ev­ery wave of sub­se­quent im­mi­grants to fall un­der its spell. So it was for her.

In her cap­ti­vat­ing lit­er­ary me­moir, Singer re­calls find­ing Cal­i­for­nia in waves. She fell in love with the idea of it as a child; she met it face to face in her teen years, when her mother re­lo­cated their fam­ily to a town just be­yond the San Fran­cisco Bay. But as much as her book is a cel­e­bra­tion of place, it is also about the in­sa­tia­bil­ity of hunger for home. Buried in her pages, even when she’s most wrapped up in Cal­i­for­nia’s glow, is a sear­ing sense of loss.

The in­ter­ro­ga­tion re­ferred to in the ti­tle is both a mem­ory and a re­con­struc­tion. When she was six­teen, a fam­ily court de­manded that she jus­tify her fam­ily in or­der to keep it. She couldn’t find the words. Not then. Now, in ret­ro­spect, she paints a pic­ture of a fam­ily that was un­con­ven­tional, sure, but that from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion grew up from un­apolo­getic and acute de­sire.

Singer’s story comes through brief and lovely snap­shots of mo­ments, cap­tured in lan­guage that is vis­ceral and vi­va­cious:

I am be­gin­ning to love her, Cal­i­for­nia. Ev­ery di­rec­tion is a new part of her mapped body, wild grasses like silky hair. Kid­ney swim­ming pools; flower-bud breath; war­mar­teried high­ways. As pow­er­ful as what she does share are the things that she chooses to mute or con­ceal. She touches on her shtetl an­ces­tors’ sto­ries only briefly, but with ev­i­dent pain; an ac­count suited to #Metoo is slipped into a foot­note. The re­sult is a work that is both raw and incandescent, but whose most pow­er­ful re­veals will per­haps reemerge in the reader’s con­scious­ness only af­ter the fact. This is a Cal­i­for­nia that, as promised, truly does be­long to all.

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