3 out of 4 stars
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If you’re feeling stuck, stagnant, or burned out, Corners: Voices on Change edited by Amy Lou Jenkins might just be the book for you. With the common thread of change and transformation running through this collection of 25 stories, essays, and other musings on paper, Corners strikes a happy balance between the advice-giving nature of the self-help genre and the storytelling feature of autobiographies and memoirs. It’s like attending a group therapy session or a retreat where you get to listen to the wisdom of a diverse array of people—mothers, grandmothers, writers, poets, teachers, travelers, students, singers, combat veterans—who each have a noteworthy story to share.
Doctoral student Julia Anne Miller starts things off in “Intersection of Then and Now,” where she recounts the traumatic brain injury that abruptly altered her life. Somehow, she retains the ability to write, and this saves her from despair as she comes to grips with her “new self.” Selfhood is also a theme in Cate Dicharry’s “I Became a Mother But I Lost Myself,” a candid revelation of the hidden perils of “motherlove.” Like Julia’s and Cate’s, several of the other narratives are poignant, inspiring, and speaks to common life transitions and experiences. Moving out of a childhood home, getting fired from a job, and dealing with deaths, births, or disabilities were some of the backdrops that gave rise to the insights shared by the writers.
Other stories took a broader view of the theme of change. Elena Harap’s short essay on the perpetuation of stereotypes through nursery rhymes was an eye-opener. Ken Williams’ account as a “cherry,” a fresh recruit during the Vietnam War where “boys killed boys,” was a short, gut-wrenching read. The parallel Patricia Byrne drew between falling down the stairs and substance abuse was a simple, enlightening commentary on addiction and dependence. Dawn Cogger wrote about loving someone “without understanding,” a perspective that takes a tremendous amount of maturity to appreciate and act upon.
The diversity of voices, of ideas, perceptions, and writing styles offered in this collection made for a very enriching reading experience. Some stories I loved; some I liked; some I was ambivalent about. Some voices were forthright; others were meandering. It seemed that some writers just wanted to be heard while others aimed to be understood. Some messages came across with the clarity and precision of a photograph; others struck me with that same ambiguity and weirdness I often associate with abstract art. And yet the stories invite reflection on a broad range of human experiences: relationships, politics, religion, society, heritage, love, rejection, and (to paraphrase a line in Amy Lou Jenkins’ introduction) how the world is always in motion even when you’re standing still.
All of us have dealt with the uncertainties of change. We all know how terrifying it can be. Corners reassures us that it’s part of life. Every person has gone through it in some form or another, and while not everyone thrives after the experience, all have found ways to survive. There are stories that you will relate to even while some will probably just go over your head, but there’s no denying the book’s potential to inspire and move people to reflect and act on their past, present, and future circumstances.
If I could, I would rate Corners 4 stars. However, the presence of several editing problems, mostly in the form of missing or misplaced punctuation marks, led to a final rating of 3 out of 4 stars. Regardless, readers facing a personal crisis may find solace in a story or two from this remarkable collection. For anyone who wants to move on and onward, Corners is a highly recommended read.
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