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Wild Card Quilt

by Janisse Ray

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821289,971 (3.8)6
Seventeen years after she'd left home ``for good,'' Janisse Ray pointed her truck away from Montana and back to the small southern town where she was born. Wild Card Quilt is the story, by turns hilarious, heartbreaking, and ambitious, of the adventures of returning home. For Ray, it is a story of linking the ecology of people with the ecology of place - of recovering lost traditions as she works to restore the fractured ecosystem of her native South. Her story is filled with syrup boils, quilt making, alligator trapping, and the wonderful characters of a place where generations still succeed each other on the land. But her town is also in need of repair, physical and otherwise. Ray works to save her local school, sets up a writing group at the local hardware store, and struggles with whether she can be an adult in a childhood place.… (more)
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It is said that you can never step twice in the same river—the water is always moving, it is always a new river before you. For the same reason, Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home again. You are never the same person returning that you were when you left, and those you left behind, are no longer quite the people you knew.

That doesn’t stop us from trying, though. It definitely didn’t stop Janisse Ray, who after fleeing her family’s rural Georgia farm years earlier, returned to seek the home she had spent most of her life looking for. Wild Card Quilt is her account of both her exodus and her homecoming, although she freely admits that the community she came back to was no longer the “home” she remembered. That was fine—she expected there to be change. People grow older. New buildings are built while older ones fall into disrepair. What she was not sure of, however, was whether things had changed so much she would no longer be able to find what she was seeking: a less fragmented, more meaningful way of life, with kith and kin around her; a sense of wholeness.

This country has seen an exodus of people leaving their rural homes to live in cities where there are more opportunities for a better life. It is the small towns of America, its much-idealized farming communities that have suffered the most. Ray returns to find, not an apple-pie and Sunday-come-to-meeting America, but a fractured community, one that had been irrevocably harmed by the loss of so many of its sons and daughters.

Ray, whose first memoir Ecology of a Cracker Childhood fixed her reputation as one of the South’s most vivid and poetic nature writers, turns her careful and usually compassionate eye upon her family and her hometown neighbors with equal parts affection and sadness. Wild Card Quilt is a series of loosely related stories and memories of her grandmother’s farm—now abandoned to Ray’s own intentions and desires.

From the moment she steps up onto the dusty front porch and nearly breaks the key in the stiff lock of the warped door, the author is overwhelmed by a sense of the fragility of the way of life she has come back to. This is not only a community with the strength of familial bonds that go back generations. It is an eroded place, held together by stories and memories: “…a shaking cobweb strung between a leaky house and a wind-torn barn”.
1 vote southernbooklady | Apr 14, 2008 |
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Seventeen years after she'd left home ``for good,'' Janisse Ray pointed her truck away from Montana and back to the small southern town where she was born. Wild Card Quilt is the story, by turns hilarious, heartbreaking, and ambitious, of the adventures of returning home. For Ray, it is a story of linking the ecology of people with the ecology of place - of recovering lost traditions as she works to restore the fractured ecosystem of her native South. Her story is filled with syrup boils, quilt making, alligator trapping, and the wonderful characters of a place where generations still succeed each other on the land. But her town is also in need of repair, physical and otherwise. Ray works to save her local school, sets up a writing group at the local hardware store, and struggles with whether she can be an adult in a childhood place.

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