Seventeen years after leaving home "for good," self-sufficient single mother Janisse Ray leaves her comfortable life in Montana to revisit her cracker origins. Craving a life built on "land, history, and blood," she moves into the family's rundown 1920s farmhouse in Baxley, Georgia. There she rediscovers the nearly lost pleasures of country life - a Thanksgiving syrup boil, alligator trapping, and neighbors - as well as family skirmishes. Wild Card Quilt is the story of her return and the adventures that follow as she ponders whether she will stay in Baxley "and die where seven generations of grandmothers had died" before her.
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Seventeen years after leaving her childhood home in southern Georgia, Ray (Ecology of a Cracker Childhood) moved back to raise her nine-year-old son. The author delivers a lively account of her return to "a place that as a young woman I had gladly left behind." A naturalist and activist, Ray writes eloquently about the region's forests and waterways, places she works to protect from annihilation. She's also a community advocate and embraces rural traditions. In episodic vignettes, Ray tells of attending a syrup boiling, judging a pork cook-off and struggling to keep her son's small school open. Neighbors, cousins and assorted eccentrics populate the narrative, and Ray's affectionate portraits of them are memorable: her uncle Percy, who mows grass and attends church "with great joy"; her brother and his efforts to grow a giant tomato; and the photographer who lives in an old school bus. The eponymous quilt appears throughout the book, serving as a metaphor for Ray's attempt to reassemble her life. "Making a quilt is about being able to talk," she writes. "[T]rying to create a beautiful thing... mother and daughter, in spite of our differences." Though she doesn't delve into her relationship with her son and barely addresses the issue of race and contact with local black people, Ray celebrates the richness of the natural world and the comforts of family.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Ray described her hardscrabble rural Georgia childhood and her journey out into a wider world in her acclaimed first book, Ecology of a Cracker Childhood (1999). But just as she had to leave home to become the writer and environmental activist she is, Ray had to return to put into practice her belief in the value of rural communities. In neatly fashioned and wonderfully anecdotal linked essays she chronicles her move into her grandmother's old farmhouse with her young son, and her attempt to create a meaningful life in a land where magnificent longleaf pine forests have been replaced with tree plantations, family farms sold, and small towns driven nearly to extinction. As she recounts her homesteading adventures and quilting sessions with her mother, and shares her love of nature with equal measures of lyricism and humor, Ray explains why she believes that rural life is just as important and worthy of protection as wilderness and wildlife. Not only is her book quiltlike, her entire endeavor is also a form of quilt making as she rescues discarded ways of life, seeks to create wholeness out of fragments, and concocts vibrant patterns of living that combine tradition and innovation and make way for beauty. Donna Seaman
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