"Do I dare say my brother's death was a blessing?" Decorated poet Gregory Orr was 12 when he accidentally killed his younger brother while hunting. His memoir, The Blessing, begins with an uppercut that keeps stinging despite stunning language and insight. Ill-equipped to deal with the new reality he was trapped in forever, Orr was set adrift by his parents' emotional abandonment and an ingrained familial response of denial.
Orr struggled with his destroyed understanding of the world: "Peter's death wiped out all the easy meanings I had lived by until that day, as if a giant hand swept the counters and dice of a child's game off the board."
Like Cain, Orr wandered in despair as a fugitive from society. The accident was one of a "flurry of catastrophes" that defined Orr's youth and marked a dark trajectory. Salvation began in a soda fountain shop where Orr discovered comics, cheap paperbacks and, ultimately, "POEMS!"
"Enthralled by the possibility of making my own paths out of language," writing became a way out of the labyrinth.
Originally published in 2002, these essays feel fresh, as if the wound remains raw on the page. Orr became a poet and professor, spending much of his life compelled to probe "silence-shrouded events and their consequences"--torment, guilt and desire to survive. Orr sprinkles glorious bright spots through this haunting collection, like school buses pulling into a parking lot, "each its own distinctively faded shade of orange or yellow... gathered like old carp at the edge of an autumn pool." --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review