A Piece of Sky, A Grain of Rice: A Memoir in Four Meditations
by Christine Hale
She is the unexpected child of her parents’ later years and she starts life surrounded by an abusive father, an alcoholic mother who she obsesses about pleasing, and two older sisters, one of whom is mentally disabled. Her father, the macho man who can shoot a pig for food without so much as a backward thought, offers to shoot her sister to save her from institutional life.
Later, she struggles in her relationships with her own children. In her own way, she tries to atone for the lack of emotional attachment from her parents, she tries to overcompensate for the divorce from their father? Who knows. But at the beginning of the book, she is in a tattoo parlor, getting complementary tattoos with her sixteen year old son, who can’t wait for his older sister to return home so she can also get tatted up so they can be a family joined by ink. This is their Christmas present to each other.
As a parent, this isn’t what she would like to choose for her teenage son, she says, but as she says:
Whatever’s wrong among us, it has to be my fault because… because there has to be something I can do to please You, my loved one, because… because… otherwise, what will become of me?
The story is told in four parts, each composed of short vignettes or paragraphs that jumps between decades and generations. In one moment, she is remembering her father offering to shoot her mother and himself when she is too old to walk and he too old to work, her mother covering for him and making excuses for him even when he breaks her arm.
In the next moment, she is answering her toddler’s questions about why birds don’t fly away when a car bears down on them, when clearly they have the ability to save themselves.
What I thought
In this complex memoir, the author meditates on the people in her life – her parents, her ex-husband, her present husband, her children. At various points, she refers to them all as You – which was a little confusing at first. But as she works to understand her relationships, she understands something important about herself: that she needs attachments and she craves something to hold onto. This revelation – that You is the pronoun used to represents anyone she needs – clarifies the book. That she is meditating on the people in her life, even as she goes on her Buddhist exploration, searching for the meaning of her life, even as she tries to clear her mind, it is filled with You.
I liked that the author juxtaposed her memories of her parents with how she is as a parent herself. How her choices are her attempt to answer the questions that have plagued her whole life. How she tries to resolve her past with her present.
What I would change
I like fancy words but the book started off a little too flowery. Using more dialogue and simpler language would make it a little more readable.
I would also have added some comic relief. I think the book, overall, was sad, and I just felt like I needed someone or something to make me smile.
I gave this 3.5 out of 5 stars because:
- +1 for the maturity and depth of prose
- +1 for strong themes
- +1 for connections between different parts of her life
- -1 the cover could have been more attractive
- -0.5 for lack of comic relief
Read it yourself
I received a free copy of this book from TLC tours in exchange for an honest review but the author has also graciously offered to give away TWO additional copies of her book on my site. If you’d like to read it, please comment below and I’ll choose two winners.
Read other reviews of this book here: