The Threads that Hold Us Together

“Stories are not only words, you know. Words are just the clothes that people drape on stories.” – Brian Doyle, author of Mink River 

 I was drawn to Mink River without knowing the author or the story. But at that time, and since then, it’s reminded me of the lyricism of life and the love of home and to appreciate the intertwining of our stories and how they fold and unfold and envelope one another even as that messy tangle gets gross and dysfunctional only to come out in the end with the realization, once again, that you never know what you need when you need it most, and the testing of our relationships, with each other and ourselves is somehow the beauty of it all.

What I mean to say is: this book will leave you breathless.

Set in a small fictional (at least in name) town on the Oregon coast, this tale drips in vibrant detail of the Pacific Northwest. It’s the story of one season in a community, written through the weaving of residents’ shared and separate experiences.

Reading this book is holding threads of many people’s stories – a teacher with flashing eyes, a young boy who loves his bicycle, a fisherman with an abusive father, a carver battling her inner darkness, a policeman and his pregnant wife, a doctor and a dying nun, to name a few – in as many pages, much as we do everyday in our own familiar circles.

Author Brian Doyle immerses his readers into life by the Mink River. You’ll love and know the daily trudge and toil as if they were your own.

Doyle inspires us to find the extraordinary in the mundane. His use of words enhance the reader’s understanding of time, character, place, mood, presence and being. Each character has flaws, strengths, beauty, struggles. Each is human. (Or not. Be prepared for Moses, the crow, and many other beings—rivers, bears, fish, animals and movements of all persuasions — with voices or thoughts that are earthy and real.)

Written with more attention to lyricism than proper grammar, some passages may leave your thoughts trailing, but this becomes part of the narration.

It’s like you’re privy to an entire town’s run-on conversation, and Doyle uses grammar sparsely to show the slide and rise of thoughts and voices, which aren’t linear in real life, anyways. So, while at times you may get lost in the mix of a conversation (who is saying what?) it makes you present with the characters in a very intimate way.

With this in mind, it seems less necessary to hold on to every word, but instead to simply understand and recognize the tenor of their meaning. In some way this style of writing — the capture and release of ephemeral moments — becomes meditative. 

Just as a lived memory holds eternal for one and not another, different details of this book will stick with each reader. It’s a truly beautiful read and there’s no wrong way to enjoy this book, but it would be a shame not to. Mink River was published by Oregon State University Press in 2010.

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