Thursday, May 19, 2011

Leslie Marmon Silko: The Turquoise Ledge

Sometime in grade school- middle school? high school?- I was assigned to read Leslie Marmon Silko's "Ceremony." It's one of the best books I've ever read. I read "Almanac of the Dead," another wonderful fiction book, and was thrilled when "Ceremony of Dunes" came out in 2000, though slightly disappointed. I was so excited when browsing the library and saw that Silko had a memoir, "The Turquoise Ledge," out. All of Silko's books are intensely personal works of fiction- it's clear reading them that she is intimately tied up with her characters who practically climb out of the pages. However, this book is a huge disappointment: the few times I ever really felt Silko was when she talks about her childhood in the first few pages and her dogs in the last few pages. The rest of the book is a meandering journey through the mountains outside of Tucson where she lives: she collects rocks, watches and paints the clouds, and waters her plants. It's boring and impersonal- the exact opposite of her fiction works. I slogged through it, hoping for it to pick up, but it never did. I'm disappointed and disillusioned.

There is a snippet of praise on the back of the book from Terry Tempest Williams, author of the spectacular memoir (which I was also assigned to read sometime during school), "Refuge." The authors clearly share an immense love and reverence for the desert, but Williams tells a story, while Silko meanders through a year of collecting rocks and observing the desert around her. I probably wouldn't call "The Turquoise Ledge" a memoir, but it is described as such on the cover. It reads more as a journey, a diary, a moment in time- perhaps a long essay (which would have been better shorter). Williams' book, as I remember, was a more apt memoir: telling a personal story. Clearly, the author has to decide what to reveal, what to share, and how to tell their story. I've read a few other memoirs since I started blogging my book reviews, and clearly the ones that work for me tell the authors' lives, for better or for worse. I'm curious what inspired Silko, such a wonderful story teller, to tell her story now, and in this fashion. It tries and fails to be the story of a year in the desert, the history of a life, and the current tale of an author.