Ordinary Skin: Essays From Willow Springs
by Amy Hale Auker

Texas Tech University Press, 2017. ISBN 978-1-682-83006-2.
Reviewed by D Ferrara
Posted on 01/08/2018
Review of the Month, February 2018

Nonfiction: Memoir

In most memoirs, the narrator describes a hardscrabble beginning, leading to a life of comparative luxury, or at least comfort. Amy Hale Auker does not follow this path. In fact, there isn't really a path at all in her book "Ordinary Skin: Essays from Willow Springs." She is short on exposition—a blessing in this world where everyone believes his/her life is worth at least 50,000 words. Rather, she dives right into memories—of her childhood, parents, children, husbands and horses. She doesn't head towards a comfortable life, but to one considerably more hardscrabbled.

If you are looking for a highly structured "and then I went to school" story, this isn't for you. Give it a shot anyway. Like a painting by Klee, the pieces of Auker's life contrast and combine, rather than ebb and flow. She shares her childhood fascination with toad sex in an essay by the same name. She hikes into the desert and loses her map. She deals with love, loss, isolation, and an ever-expanding family in pretty word pictures that can be sampled in virtually any order.

The essays are mostly enjoyable, inventive and curiously open-ended, as if Auker could have continued each one indefinitely. They skip from a hard-edged realism to a soft focus New Age blur (okay, I like those the least, but to each her own). We learn something about Auker—she is divorced with children, her daughter moved to Auker's sister's home to go to public school, Auker does yoga, and loves a cowboy named Gail. She has moments of one-ness with bears and sycamores, of naked feelings, and privacy. This is not a tell-all. It is more of a "feel-most." She is a grandmother, chief cook and bottle washer, with the sensuality of a teenager. Her best female friend, it appears, is a chicken.

There are a few irritations in this book: Auker skims over some parts of her life, while rhapsodizing over scorpions. No matter. There is plenty to enjoy in this book.

Amy Hale Auker is the author of Rightful Place, published in 2011 by Texas Tech University Press. This collection of essays won the 2012 WILLA for creative non-fiction and the gold medallion from Foreword Book Reviews, Book of the Year for essays. Her first novel, Winter of Beauty, was released by Pen-L Publishing in October 2013, and her second, The Story is the Thing, in 2014. Ordinary Skin: Essays from Willow Springs arrived in May 2017. This collection of creative non-fiction is published by TTUP.

She writes essays, poetry, fiction, and sometimes a big mixture of all three. Visit her website.

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