Thursday, April 23, 2015

John D'Agata Says This About The Fifth Season

My second book meant my second chance at the Oregon Book Award—but the honor went not to me but to another fine writer, Justin Hocking, for his memoir, The Great Floodgates of the Underworld (congratulations, Justin!). 

I have to be honest here. When Justin's name was announced instead of mine at the awards ceremony, I breathed a sigh of relief and all my nervous anticipation faded before the applause did. From that moment on, I was able to really listen, to relax, to enjoy the remainder of the ceremony. 

And I remembered, even as Justin was giving his speech, that sometime in the next week I would receive an email with the judge's comments on my book. 

John D'Agata was the judge for this year's creative nonfiction award, and here's what he had to say about The Fifth Season: A Daughter-in-Law's Memoir of Caregiving. (Thank you, thank you John.)

As I read Lisa Ohlen Harris’s phenomenally understated and yet exquisitely crafted memoir The Fifth Season, I started thinking that any lesser writer would have leapt upon this genuinely hearbreaking story and wrung it dry for every last drop of transfused misery. And then I started loving The Fifth Season even more.

Because what I have only now started to learn as a writer—embarrassingly late in the game, I’ll admit—is that it takes a lot more skill to hold back as it does to go for low-hanging and lurid details. What we learn in The Fifth Season, therefore, we learn through experience, through quietly developed anecdotes and impeccably pitch-perfect pacing, through watching Harris navigate the complexities of a relationship with her mother-in-law that neither of them seems to have voluntarily signed up for, and yet which intensifies gradually over seven long years until that relationship becomes something that beautifully transforms them both.  Through genuinely heroic compassion, as well as agonizingly petty bickering, through fear and humor and unconditional patience, Harris creates a portrait of a relationship that’s about as real as it can get, and thus as strong as they come. I often caught myself envying even the worst of the moments that these two women shared.