Thursday, November 10, 2011

Review from Fort Wayne arts magazine

The Luxury of Daydreams by Amy McVay Abbott, WestBow Press, 2011

There’s a quietness to living in Indiana that some Hoosiers detest. Having lived here my entire life, I can say with some acquired authority that it takes a certain kind of resolution to be satisfied with staying here in the Midwest, especially the part of the Midwest that’s removed from a large urban area, and over the years I’ve struggled to keep that resolution in place. It comes and it goes; some days this place is unbearably tedious and lacking, and some days it seems like the perfect place to be. I suspect that Amy McVay Abbott has those ups and downs too, but in The Luxury of Daydreams, a collection of personal essays, she effectively captures mostly the good days, those days during which this kind of life seems more than adequate.

Abbott’s book is the appealing kind of essay collection in which a writer’s life comes into view gradually, gaining focus with each piece of the puzzle that falls into place, revealing a picture little by little, slowly rather than all at once. Her story isn’t uncovered chronologically, and it almost seems unfair to summarize her biography in a straightforward way here. I’ll do it, though. She grew up in Whitley County, went to college at Ball State University, worked as a journalist, moved to Florida for a bit, got married and had a child, returned to southern Indiana and reclaimed her life as a Hoosier. She writes about each of these experiences and how they shaped the woman she is today. There are themes that run throughout The Luxury of Daydreams, and they are the essential values of the Midwest, the kinds of values that everyone thinks of when they think of the virtues of the Heartland. Family, history, faith, compassion, self-sufficiency, a respect for the land.

You couldn’t write a more concise textbook with which to teach someone about the things that characterize the better parts of the Midwest than Abbott has written here, and the book doesn’t do much to shake up any preconceived notions an outsider might have about this place. That’s not to say it’s all smooth sailing and smalltown quaintness. There is struggle and difficulty here, too. The whole impetus to write the book begins when Abbott loses her job, but what is the Midwest about these days if not unemployment?

She deals with personal challenges (her son has Asperger’s Syndrome, and her mother suffers from dementia) and she helps other people cope with their own tragedies (she loses a good friend to leukemia, and she does what she can to be supportive to the woman’s family). But Abbott gets over these hurdles with the help of Christian faith and an impressive stockpile of oldfashioned Midwestern resilience. There’s never any doubt whether she’ll be all right in the end. Part of what helps her keep looking ahead with optimism is her ability to look backward with clarity.

She learns about – and teaches us about – her ancestors, Indiana farmers who never wanted to be anything other than what they were, men and women who stood up to the vagaries of nature and the economy, untimely death and every other hardship that came their way with steadfastness. Abbott treasures the objects they passed down to her – a quilt, a mixing bowl, a photograph – as a means to remember where she came from and as an example of how she should keep going. She writes all of this in a manner that’s evocative and engaging. The best Midwestern writers can find poetry in what looks mundane to the unimaginative, and Abbott occupies a space firmly within that tradition. It’s not always easy to look around Indiana and see what Abbott sees, but it’s good to be reminded that all the good that she finds in this place is here if you’re willing to notice it. Hoosier Values On Video October 6, ’11 On Books EVAN GILLESPIE