The Winter Sun: Notes on a Vocation


By this point, Fanny Howe, who was born in 1940, has had many lives and many sorts of intellectual hunger. Nevertheless, some of her deepest questions seem unchanged from when she was about eight and did not like to speak to anyone. At this time, the woman who would give her life over to creating fine and lasting writing was a girl who did not like to believe in the reality of time, and wished to feel her own presence as timeless. Looking back now, Howe meditates, “I was often mute the background, sucking my thumb and daydreaming. In this posture, I was conscious of being coherent inside my skin, but it would take a while before I found out that I could test this coherence to see if it could survive changes in time and space — by moving great distances.” It is fitting that Howe should focus in on her own early feeling of coherence, because it is exactly what she is trying, in complex ways, to reassemble in this book. She is not after physical, narrative, or even linear coherence, but a philosophical coherence. Her essays are made partly by leaping through a meditation whose whole transcends the sum of the parts. This collage-like book of essays is in fact a kaleidoscope. The reflective fragments grow into wider, seemingly geometric patterns. Howe’s early struggles to find what coheres lead to later, brooding preoccupations with finding God. And while her essays meander and seem often to splinter into fragments, they frequently catch themselves in refractions of an original delight. The older Howe writes: “For we gather and discard simultaneously as we move in time?. Only recognition can serve us in the end.” She’s after that recognition, and finds it, in moments.