From New York Times opinion writer Margaret Renkl comes an unusual, captivating portrait of a family – and of the cycles of joy and grief that inscribe human lives within the natural world.
Growing up in Alabama, Renkl was a devoted reader, an explorer of riverbeds and red-dirt roads, and a fiercely loved daughter. Here, in brief essays, she traces a tender and honest portrait of her complicated parents?her exuberant, creative mother; her steady, supportive father?and of the bittersweet moments that accompany a child's transition to caregiver.
And here, braided into the overall narrative, Renkl offers observations on the world surrounding her suburban Nashville home. Ringing with rapture and heartache, these essays convey the dignity of bluebirds and rat snakes, monarch butterflies and native bees. As these two threads haunt and harmonize with each other, Renkl suggests that there is astonishment to be found in common things: in what seems ordinary, in what we all share. For in both worlds – the natural one and our own – "the shadow side of love is always loss, and grief is only love's own twin".
Gorgeously illustrated by the author's brother, Billy Renkl, Late Migrations is an assured and memorable debut.
Margaret Renkl is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, where her essays appear weekly. Her work has also appeared in Guernica, Literary Hub, Proximity, and River Teeth, among others. She was the founding editor of Chapter 16, the daily literary publication of Humanities Tennessee, and is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Carolina. She lives in Nashville.
- An Indie Next Selection for July 2019
- An Indies Introduce Selection for Summer/Fall 2019
"Beautifully written, masterfully structured, and brimming with insight into the natural world, Late Migrations can claim its place alongside Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and A Death in the Family. It has the makings of an American classic."
– Ann Patchett, author of Commonwealth
"A compact glory, crosscutting between consummate family memoir and keenly observed backyard natural history. Renkl's deft juxtapositions close up the gap between humans and nonhumans and revive our lost kinship with other living things."
– Richard Powers, author of The Overstory
"This warm, rich memoir might be the sleeper of the summer. [Renkl] grew up in the South, nursed her aging parents, and never once lost her love for life, light, and the natural world. Beautiful is the word, beautiful all the way through."
– Philadelphia Inquirer
"Renkl feels the lives and struggles of each creature that enters her yard as keenly as she feels the paths followed by her mother, grandmother, her people. Learning to accept the sometimes harsh, always lush natural world may crack open a window to acceptance of our own losses. In Late Migrations, we welcome new life, mourn its passing, and honor it along the way."
– Indie Next List (July 2019), selected by Kat Baird, The Book Bin
"[A] stunning collection of essays merging the natural landscapes of Alabama and Tennessee with generations of family history, grief and renewal. Renkl's voice sounds very close to the reader's ear: intimate, confiding, candid and alert."
– Shelf Awareness
"A close and vigilant witness to loss and gain, Renkl wrenches meaning from the intimate moments that define us. Her work is a chronicle of being. And a challenge to cynicism. Late Migrations is flat-out brilliant and it has arrived right on time."
– John T. Edge, author of The Potlikker Papers
"Gracefully written and closely observed, Renkl's lovely essays are tinged with the longing for family and places now gone while rejoicing in the flutter of birds and life still alive."
– Alan Lightman, author of Einstein's Dreams
"Here is an extraordinary mind combined with a poet's soul to register our own old world in a way we have not quite seen before. Late Migrations is the psychological and spiritual portrait of an entire family and place presented in quick takes – snapshots – a soul's true memoir. The dire dreams and fears of childhood, the mother's mysterious tears, the imperfect beloved family [...] all are part of a charged and vibrant natural world also filled with rivalry, conflict, the occasional resolution, loss, and delight. Late Migrations is a continual revelation."
– Lee Smith, author of The Last Girls
"Renkl holds my attention with essays about plants and caterpillars in a way no other nature writer can."
– Mary Laura Philpott, author of I Miss You When I Blink
"This is the story of grief accelerated by beauty and beauty made richer by grief [...] Like Patti Smith in Woolgathering, Renkl aligns natural history with personal history so completely that the one becomes the other. Like Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Renkl makes, of a ring of suburbia, an alchemical exotica."
– The Rumpus
"[A] magnificent debut [...] Renkl instructs that even amid life's most devastating moments, there are reasons for hope and celebration. Readers will savor each page and the many gems of wisdom they contain."
– Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Compelling, rich, satisfying [...] The short, potent essays of Late Migrations are objects as worthy of marvel and study as the birds and other creatures they observe."
– Foreword Reviews (starred review)
"A melding of flora, fauna and family [...] Renkl captures the spirit and contemporary culture of the American South better than anyone."
"[Late Migrations] is shot through with deep wonder and a profound sense of loss. It is a fine feat, this book. Renkl intimately knows that 'this life thrives on death' and chooses to sing the glory of being alive all the same."
"A series of redolent snapshots and memories that seem to halt time [...] [Renkl's] narrative metaphor becomes the miraculous order of nature [...] in all its glory and cruelty; she vividly captures 'the splendor of decay.'"
"A captivating, beautifully written story of growing up, love, loss, living, and a close extended family by a talented nature writer and memoirist that will appeal to those who enjoy introspective memoirs and the natural world close to home."
– Library Journal