Clouds Like Horses
by Stephanie Hart
And Then Press

"There is a scent of fall in the air. I don't want to break the stillness by darting into the kitchen. When I come back this mother may be gone. She will have sharp nails and eyes the color of a rained-on sky."

Is it naïve to ask if a memoir, written in our times, can delineate a content life? Apparently so, based on a glut of contemporary memoirs written by people in their 40s and older. This book is a series of short vignettes about the author's life, her parents' lives and those of her grandparents, who emigrated from Russia.

The author is an only child, whose parents divorce before she is ten. She is sent to a Presbyterian boarding school; she is the only Jewish student enrolled. There, she comes to appreciate her religion and learns about the Holocaust, so she can educate others. Another positive experience is that she has become a successful writer; many of these vignettes have appeared in national magazines including The Sun. She also appreciates and learns from her college students and has visited Russia. However, the backdrop of the book is anger and heartbreak: callous parents; deaths of friends and family; divorces; short-termed romances. Hart, a writing professor in New York City, probably experienced catharsis from writing this. As an adult, it seems she has no partner, no pets, and few (discussed) friends except those in early childhood.

Autobiographical books make a splash for two or three reasons: they are beautifully written, or the author has an exceptional story to tell or is a famous person, although this writer's memories are evocative of a place and time, mostly Manhattan and environs beginning in the 50s. That said, much of the writing is lyrical. In the chapter, Sailing, she writes, "Today, I take the rudder for the first time I am sure of everything that the sky won't fall, that the boat won't capsize, that the chain of sadness behind and before me will evaporate into foam. There is only the hum of the wind and the murmur of water with me on it, only these things." The author is sensitive and perceptive, perhaps seeking more positive times.

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