Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Book Review - RECAPTURE By Erica Olsen

By Erica Olsen 

About the Author
Erica Olsen lives in the Four Corners area, where she does archives and curation work for archaeology museums. A graduate of Stanford, Harvard, and the University of Montana MFA program, she has also been a Djerassi Fiction Fellow at the University of Wisconsin. Her short fiction has appeared in ZYZZYVA, High Desert Journal, and other publications, and her nonfiction pieces in magazines including Fine Books & Collections and High Country News. Her work has received awards including the 2011 Barthelme Prize for Short Prose (for “Grand Canyon II,” included in Recapture).

About The Book:
Erica Olsen’s short story collection Recapture explores the canyons, gulches, and vast plains of memory along with the colorful landscapes of the West. By turns lyrical, deadpan, and surreal, Olsen’s calm, clear writing allows the unexpected to manifest itself with understated brilliance. In the stories of Recapture, a curator preserves silences in glass jars, a woman works in a larger-than-life-size replica of the Grand Canyon, a hug from a King Kong costume-clad unknown sparks an epiphany on the Empire State Building, and a bookmobile trundles through the deserts of southeastern Utah, its innards full of Jane Austen novels. Archaeology and history, love and loneliness, identity and preservation all wind through the collection, blurring the lines between the natural world and the world we create.

Hollywood-born and of Korean and Scandinavian heritage, author Erica Olsen claims no hometown. Her writing does not demand that readers be familiar with the places described, no more than the characters. Rather, Olsen invites us along for the ride, introducing us to the often mysterious, sometimes endearing, and occasionally artificial qualities of people and place.

Lynda's Review:
This collection of short stories is a journey of captured moments and current realities, of landscapes and memories. Each lingers like honey on the tongue or bitter and sweet truths on the mind. It's a contemplative reading, requiring some meditation to encompass the whole. Simple and yet complex, the narrative is colorful and pictorial. I'm happy to give this collection Four Stars!

A Conversation with Erica Olsen

Q: Why did you choose to title the collection after that particular story—Recapture?

A: “Recapture,” in the story title, is a place name in San Juan County in southeast Utah—a beautiful name. According to the WPA Guide to Utah, Recapture Canyon was “named by Peter Shirts, a hermit who settled in the San Juan country in 1877. Shirts believed that Montezuma escaped from his Spanish captors and was recaptured in this canyon.” So it’s a place name that is totally historically inaccurate. That’s perfect for the story, which builds on the premise that an Ancestral Puebloan ruin was moved from the Recapture Canyon area to Southern California around 1900. That’s not as unlikely as it sounds. I based the idea on the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, which were moved from McElmo Canyon in southwest Colorado to Manitou Springs, CO, in the early 1900s.
As a title for the collection, the word “recapture” evokes major themes of the collection: memory and our relationship to the past. There’s something impossible and yearning in the sound of the word, as well as a kind of covetousness and desire. It captures the themes of the collection in a single word. If it didn’t exist as a place name, I would’ve had to invent it.

Q: How did you become interested in archeological preservation? 
A: This interest comes directly from my first hikes on public land in southeast Utah, starting in 1993. Almost twenty years ago! I’ve always been interested in the tension between the very human desire for discovery and authentic experience, and the necessary apparatus of preservation (laws, rules and regulations, trails, signage). This is the same dilemma that archivists and museum curators face: how to balance the need for both preservation and access to fragile, unique items.

Q: How has the West shaped you?

A: This question takes me back to the issues of identity, home, and belonging. I think there’s an American myth or idealizing of the idea of a home town. Well, some of us don’t come from anywhere in particular. I’ve found an adopted home here in southeast Utah. This is where I feel at home. How has the West shaped me? I’m still finding out.

More specifically, I know I wouldn’t have put the stories in Recapture together without the time I’ve spent living and working in the Four Corners area. The time at Edge of the Cedars was especially important. I lived in a little trailer across the street from the museum, and I had the best view in town—west toward the Bears Ears, incredible sunsets, the Abajos to the north. When I’m writing, I like to be able to look out and see a long way. Last year, I worked on some of the stories in this book in camp during a backpacking trip in Dark Canyon and a canoe trip on the San Rafael River.


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