Can we exorcise a memory? Can we purge those that are a danger to us?
Rewriting moments of trauma while coming to terms with a family in the early stages of memory loss, A Summoning muddles the line between fiction and nonfiction, poetry and prose, text and image. Each segment is fragmented but fluid, weaving in and out to show how malleable and unreliable memory can be; how it manifests in the body, mentally, physically, emotionally; how it mutates and betrays as we age.
A conceptual, psychological experiment focused on memory, Nicole McCarthy’s collection lays the groundwork explaining the physiology of memory and how it changes in our bodies.
Publication Date: Aug 2, 2022
Paperback: 122 pages
Review at DIAGRAM
University of Washington-Bothell School of IAS News
“McCarthy does an incredible job blending the informational with the emotional and creates a strong foundation for affective or sentimental attachment to the rest of her story.”
“Tolstoy famously began his great novel of marital misery like this: ‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ Nicole McCarthy’s electrifying book—a hybrid of poem, essay, photo, document, lyric and elegy—shows that every modern divorce is painful in its own way. Anna Karenina struggles against the social constraints of pre-feminist culture of l9th century Russia, but the woman in A Summoning faces the more insidious enemy of American cultural schizophrenia: sexual repression vs sex positive sloganeering; hedonism vs puritanism; militarism vs slacker culture. The clash of the desire for home and the desire for freedom, whatever those mean … McCarthy’s book is fearless, brave and a godsend to readers.”
—Rebecca Brown, author of The Gifts of the Body (winner of a LAMBDA Literary award) and Not Heaven, Somewhere Else
“Nicole McCarthy’s A Summoning is an elegant, unflinching treatise on the subject of memory, engaging everything from the celestially studded mythos of ancient Greece to newfound conclusions of cellular biology to coax forth the intricacies of reminiscence. The searing prose and arresting visuals of the hybrid form are nothing short of orchestral in McCarthy’s hands. Blueprints reveal the architecture of toxic domesticity. Textual repetition and erasure lay bare the devastating unreliability with which we bear witness and lay claim to one another. A Summoning truly soars, however, when McCarthy grants the reader vulnerable access to an airless and seemingly inescapable love affair. When trauma infiltrates the house of memory, A Summoning suggests, sometimes the only thing to do is burn it down. As she escapes these smoking rooms, McCarthy offers by example this amazing grace: that holy reclamation of the self is possible. That if in our darkest hours we find a way to persist, we will remain.”
—Piper J. Daniels, author of Ladies Lazarus, finalist for a LAMBDA Literary award and a PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award
“In her gorgeous debut, Nicole McCarthy takes us through the rooms of a life, warning that there are rooms we won’t wish to revisit, places that we will flee, destroy, set aflame. Memory, she instructs, is not so much a palace as it is a haunted attic, a storage shed of despair, places we return to against our wishes, a drink we are forced to take. ‘Would you alter a memory, if you could?’ she asks. In a fragile and ethereal layering of poetic language, intense recollections, philosophical propositions, and visual splicing and collaging, McCarthy alters our understanding of the method of loci and thereby the notion that memory is a palace. She has set it down here, permanently, and for all time, in this book, so as to remind us that no matter how crumbling, how collapsed our lives, we can only hope to escape our frantic pacing, our retracings through memory.”
—Jenny Boully, author of Betwixt-and-Between, The Body, and others
“The way architects understand that structures act on us as much as we act on them, Nicole McCarthy has written and designed a living book that functions like a building containing separate but overlapping rooms of body, memory, and space. Each room, no matter how complex, is accessible from anywhere in this building, and that’s why A Summoning is alive and gracious, because I feel like it cares about how we move through and inhabit its spaces. We can participate like hell in this book and it’s a beautiful thing to have that type of intellectual and emotional agency.”
—Steven Dunn, author of water & power and Potted Meat
“Asking, ‘can I give up this body when I have filled it with too many memories?’ McCarthy shows us where they truly reside—under shoulder blade and rib, in the taut muscles of calves still ready to sprint away from what taunts and haunts them. Kneading the places where love, loss, and trauma reside, she risks recall to help us reckon with the power Mnemosyne holds over us.”
—Amaranth Borsuk, author of The Book and Pomegranate Eater
“Nicole McCarthy extends and perforates the essay form with this insistence: to reclaim what has been taken, to build back memories that have been gaslit, to re-introduce the body into architectures of living, you need all manners of writing and thought. You need blueprints and fragmentation; you need the white of the page, the line breaking, the flow of prose, the simultaneous silence and noise of erasure. The resulting shape is a series of built spaces made for healing and self-articulation. A Summoning is a vital work and an admirable debut.”
—Renee Gladman, author of Calamities and the Ravicka Series
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