Hope in the ashes
Poet Karen Auvinen’s memoir, Rough Beauty, opens on a beautiful March morning, when Auvinen, out delivering the mail on her rural Colorado route, notices the deep blue of the sky, the signs of early spring and smoke from a fire—a fire that turns out to be her own house burning. She’d recently settled outside the Rocky Mountain town of Jamestown, but now, Auvinen can only watch as firefighters work to contain the fire, which destroys everything she owns.
Auvinen then drops back to detail her difficult adolescence: an abusive dad, an impassive mom, a peripatetic childhood. But she dispatches with her youth quickly, focusing instead on the years that followed the devastating fire and describing life at the edge of the wilderness. “Up on the mountain, summer was easy,” she writes. “The world was green and glorious. Aspens clacked in the breeze and hummingbirds whirred across meadows gone crazy with wildflowers. Mornings dawned open and wide blue, but by noon, the sky blackened and thunder rumbled.”
As she describes her patchwork of jobs, her friends and a relationship gone bad, Auvinen paints a picture of quirky Jamestown, home to 300. She works part-time as a cook at Jamestown’s Mercantile Café and tries to help her aging mother, who has begun a slow decline. Auvinen isn’t afraid to show her own prickly character or her loneliness. But the heart of this memoir is her relationship with her rescue dog, Elvis, a Husky mix with a penchant for wandering. As Elvis nears the end of his life, Auvinen finds a new (human) relationship and her own happy ending.
This article was originally published in the June 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.