Childhood is a remarkable and evanescent time, even though we usually don't realize it then. And as many of us know as we age, the ordinary day-to-day events in our young lives can have a great impact on our future.
"I Will Not Leave You Comfortless" is the story of 10-year-old Jeremy Jackson in 1983, the year he lived at home with his parents and two sisters in rural Missouri, with his grandparents living nearby. It would turn out to be the last year when all his family members would be at home together, as his older sister would soon depart for college and a fatal illness would strike his paternal grandmother.
Jackson, a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop who has also written two novels and a cookbook, has captured beautifully this fleeting year of childhood, moving from his own memories to those of other family members in a way that places the reader into that time with ease. The air, the weather, the landscape, the emotions, his first girlfriend and the gift he buys her, his troubles, his worries, his observations, all help locate us at the time of his youth and remind us of the noteworthy events of our own childhood.
"I was just one boy. A boy whose grandmother was sick, whose dog was a mud-crusted ragamuffin, whose nightmares featured flooded rivers, and whose hand was bleeding in innumerable places at once, like a crop of roses blooming in fast-forward profusion."
Throughout the memoir is young Jeremy's slowly growing realization that his grandmother is dying. Readers, on the other hand, including many of us who have experienced this life event, know what is coming, and as such there is a bit of a disconnect with the narrator and the reader. Also, there are a moments in Jeremy's year -- as would be true with any of us -- when things are a little too ordinary and just a bit dull. And there is an oddly placed revelation, deep in the book, when Jackson reveals something surprising about the present which apparently has its origins during this formative year of his life and becomes an important reason he focused his memoir on this time.
Yet aside from these faint distractions, "I Will Not Leave You Comfortless" shines and glides beautifully onward with Jackson's eloquent language, his capturing of the subtle nuances, fears and joys of growing up, and his poetic descriptions of those lovely moments of being a child that many of us were fortunate to have experienced, such as when he writes:
"It was the time of year in Missouri when you could begin to sense the approach of summer, and when the scent of the enlivened earth could be inhaled all the way to your core, where it fixed a certain stillness into your being."
Jim Carmin is a National Books Critic Circle member who lives in Portland, Ore.