I wasn’t sure what to expect from A Memoir In Pieces because I wasn’t previously familiar with her work but Mary Allen’s book, The Deep Limitless Air is immediately enthralling. The book reads like a novel, narrative nonfiction is what this writing style would be called, I think, so the “story” begins with a first-person description of an experience of installing bees in a hive with her father. This first chapter, entitled Bees, describes Allen’s recollection of taking a class and being inspired to curate a beehive herself. The vignette wraps the theoretical study of beekeeping with the sensory experience of fear and physical pain from being stung. The story mentions but doesn’t delve into the complexity of her family dynamic – we see her father’s support of her ideas and his involvement in her plans, but just as clearly we see her mother’s pseudo-absence; and a sister is mentioned by the way but just in passing. All these aspects made me curious to know more about the narrator and what she would share but I also felt impressed to go learn more about bees and beekeeping from the descriptions in that first vignette.
The ensuing chapters are just as interesting and well written. I love the author’s voice, I admire her strength for sharing the painful details of her life with the reader. I enjoy how when Allen introduces us to a person, she also gives us a little look into how her story with them ends. In talking about a boyfriend, she says, “He will turn out to be someone I would cross the street to get away from but I’m crazy about him i this moment.” She also does this with some events in her life, giving the reader a glimpse into the future while she is talking about something happening in the present. It is a foresight that Mary Allen explores with phrases like, “He has less than two months to live, but we don’t know that, of course.” I appreciate the preparation she gives the reader, to deal with the hard topics but sparing us the shock of pain.
I was impressed reading this memoir that spans several decades, because Allen’s recollections are vivid, although I love her transparency in a line on page 82, “I Had to rewrite this piece twice because, as I learned when I started researching, I remembered a lot of the details wrong.” The quote appears towards the end of the chapter where she recalls being part of a school shooting in 1991 where her boss and other administrators were killed by a former student. I think over the years that follow something so traumatic, memories can become colored by influences so Mary Allen’s statement makes the book feel more authentic, that she isn’t just sharing what she remembers, wrong or right, but that she is also seeing how it aligns with the official records, to give the reader the most accurate picture.
The Deep Limitless Air is an emotional, intellectual but also very literary memoir and I want to pass copies of this book out to my friends. The book addresses issues like parental neglect and foster care, unexpected friendship, the loss of friends and family through illness and suicide, religion and life as a monk, mass shootings and the back story behind what’s covered in the news, and it is all transmitted with simplicity and tenderness. I was here for all of it.
Note: I received a complimentary copy of The Deep Limitless Air in order to participate in a publicity tour organized by TLC Book Tours. I was not otherwise compensated and the above represents my honest opinion about the book.
- Title: The Deep Limitless Air: A Memoir In Pieces
- Author: Mary Allen
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 235
- Publisher: Blue Light Press
- Publication Date: 2022