Gail Caldwell's memoir, A Strong West Wind, is written for each of us who longed to move away from our hometowns, knowing that something better just had to be around the corner. Caldwell, who grew up in the Texas panhandle, artfully uses the metaphor of the wind to steer us through the passages of her life.
I was hooked by her first line... "How do we become who we are?" Hers is a story of growing up with more questions than answers. I found myself nodding in understanding at so many of her reflections, including: "I needed to know, I think, that you could be sad and half crazy and still have a life that meant something. I needed to figure out for myself, which I would do over the next decade, that sometimes these definitions concealed or shrouded a brighter truth—that what looked like an off-road ditch might be another, better path."
The author artfully weaves disparate themes (literature, war, growing up in the 1960s, and her special relationship with her father) into a colorful tapestry. As an avid reader, I particularly enjoyed how she cited lines and characters from favorite books to correspond with scenes in her life. She is at ease discussing a broad spectrum of authors from Shakespeare and Tolstoy to more modern writers like Faulkner and McCarthy. It is clear how important reading is to her life from her first visits to her hometown library, "a generous old Georgian mansion with two sets of stone steps up to its wide verandas." Caldwell aptly describes herself as a child "bored beyond measure without a book in my hand."
After her father's death, Caldwell writes poignantly, "What we have of anyone is so slight; the timbre of a voice, the leftover stories, the smell of a hunting vest. And yet so much of life is about the empty spaces..."
From girlhood to middle age, the wind carries us through these spaces in the author's life—a life like so many of our own.
Gail Caldwell has been a book critic for The Boston Globe for twenty years. In 2001, she won the Pulitzer Prize.
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