Winona Heeley spent the last year of recovery from eating disorders in rural Japan, at Michikusa House, alongside one other full-time resident: Jun Nakashima. Like Winona, Jun was a recovering addict and college dropout. While they bonded over rituals of growing their own food and preparing meals, they changed each other’s lives by reconstructing long-held beliefs about shame, identity, and renewal.
But after Winona returns to her Midwest hometown, Jun vanishes.
Two years pass and Winona, seeking revival through gardening, accepts a job as a groundskeeper at a local cemetery…and begins searching for Jun Nakashima once more.
Iris Graville, author of the award-winning memoir Hiking Naked, lives on an island in the Salish Sea and writes as a citizen of the planet. Writer in a Life Vest as a collection of essays is a journey of discovery and an education about a delicate ecosystem which supports some of the world’s most iconic creatures. The first Writer in Residence on the Washington State Ferries, Iris spent a year riding the interisland ferry through the San Juan Islands of the Salish Sea. Readers cycle with her as the ferry glides and rocks through the home of the endangered resident orcas (killer whales) and meet scientific experts who are devoting their knowledge and energies to saving these rare creatures. As we learn about riding this ferry — including witnessing a moveable ukulele jam, where players board the ferry at various ports, play together for a while and move on — Graville teaches us about the current state of the sea’s health and our connection to it. The multiple essay forms Graville employs keep readers off-kilter, as if standing on the deck of a rocking ship, yet they invite us to hang on and to look deeper. Like Graville, I live on an island in the Salish Sea, though not in the San Juans, and I swim in the sea year-round. It is my concern for the fragile state of this body of water, of the resident orcas, and of our planet that has led me to write this review. Graville’s collection belongs in the genre of books alerting us to the precarious state of our planet, but it stands out by pointing our gaze toward hopefulness and action.
Reviewer Bio: Deborah Nedelman, PhD, MFA is co-author of two non-fiction books: A Guide for Beginning Psychotherapists (Cambridge Press) and Still Sexy After All These Years (Perigee/Penguin). Her novel, What We Take for Truth (Adelaide Press, 2019) won the Sarton Women’s Book Award for Historical Fiction. Deborah is a manuscript coach and leads writing and watercolor painting workshops.