Descanso for My Father: Fragments of a Life

Descanso for My Father: Fragments of a Life

by Harrison Candelaria Fletcher
     
 

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When his father died, Harrison Candelaria Fletcher wasn’t quite two. His mother packed up his father’s belongings, put the boxes in a hall closet, and closed the door. The “man in a box” remained a mystery, hardly mentioned, and making only rare appearances in stories when Fletcher or his siblings inquired. Meanwhile, his young Hispanic

Overview


When his father died, Harrison Candelaria Fletcher wasn’t quite two. His mother packed up his father’s belongings, put the boxes in a hall closet, and closed the door. The “man in a box” remained a mystery, hardly mentioned, and making only rare appearances in stories when Fletcher or his siblings inquired. Meanwhile, his young Hispanic mother transformed herself into an artist, scouting the back roads and secondhand shops of New Mexico for relics and unlikely treasures to add to her “little shrines,” or descansos. “Look closely,” she’d say to her son. “Everything tells a story.” 

This book is Fletcher’s literary descanso, a piecing together—from moments and objects and words—of a father’s life, of the life lived without that father, and of his own mixed-race identity. Fletcher’s reflections unfold like a collage, offering a rich array of images and stories of life with his single mother, organizing weekend family car trips to explore graveyards and adobe ruins; of growing up on the fault lines of class and culture; of being a father who never had one of his own to learn from. From incidents and observations, Fletcher assembles a beautifully crafted portrait of his family’s unspoken affliction with loss over the decades, a portrait that finally evokes the father at its heart.

Editorial Reviews

El Paso Times

"Fletcher's prose is simply gorgeous, and Albuquerque's cultural heritage is richly depicted in this book of essays, which adds to our understanding of family, landscape and their role in the formation of identity. An exquisite literary debut."—Rigoberto Gonzalez, El Paso Times

— Rigoberto Gonzalez

Southwestern American Literature

"Ultimately it is language and a sharp eye for detail, not suspense, that pulls the reader along. . . . In a memoir-drenched era of publishing, Descanso is refreshing."—Jana Fornario, Southwestern American Literature

— Jana Fornario

High Country News

"Descanso for My Father is laced with stories about people encountering ghosts. Candelaria Fletcher may not be clairvoyant, but he conjures up the spirits of his ancestors in this unusual and moving book."—Jenny Shank, High Country News

— Jenny Shank

El Paso Times - Rigoberto Gonzalez

"Fletcher's prose is simply gorgeous, and Albuquerque's cultural heritage is richly depicted in this book of essays, which adds to our understanding of family, landscape and their role in the formation of identity. An exquisite literary debut."—Rigoberto Gonzalez, El Paso Times
Southwestern American Literature - Jana Fornario

"Ultimately it is language and a sharp eye for detail, not suspense, that pulls the reader along. . . . In a memoir-drenched era of publishing, Descanso is refreshing."—Jana Fornario, Southwestern American Literature
High Country News - Jenny Shank

"Descanso for My Father is laced with stories about people encountering ghosts. Candelaria Fletcher may not be clairvoyant, but he conjures up the spirits of his ancestors in this unusual and moving book."—Jenny Shank, High Country News
Judith Kitchen

“Fletcher deftly shows us the meaning of the word ‘quest’—investigation, dream, and religious pursuit all cohere around the essential mystery of one man’s life. In the process, the author faces his own relics, making a large picture out of the bright shards of memory and uncertainty.”—Judith Kitchen, author of Distance and Direction
Sue William Silverman
“As with any quest, bravery is required. Descanso for My Father is brave, insightful, compelling, and beautifully, beautifully written.”—Sue William Silverman, author of Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir
Rumpus - Jericho Parms

"Like the dreamlike shadowboxes of Joseph Cornell, Fletcher assembles scraps of imagery and inherited keepsakes into an enchanting quest to understand his family's stories. . . . In the same way a painter applies the principles of negative space to a composition, Fletcher, who understands the endless possibilities of the essay form, relies on memory and observation, while safeguarding the sense of absence, the space of silence in his prose."—Jericho Parms, Rumpus
Kirkus Reviews
A new dad strives to connect with the father he barely knew, through family lore, a small box of mementos and the investigations they inspire. Fletcher was raised by a single mother who imparted to her son a sense of curiosity and ritual by filling their New Mexico home with found objects, historical artifacts and folk art. Having stashed away all of her husband's possessions, upon his death just before Fletcher's second birthday, she unwittingly impelled her son to seek out and savor every possible sliver of insight into his familial roots. In his debut, Fletcher excavates his paternal origins through unearthed letters, uncaptioned old photos and fresh understanding borne of road trips to his father's old haunts. The author's patchwork sense of heritage and identity is mirrored in the unconventional structure of his writing, with poetic swaths of dialogue, emotion and imagery anchored by edifying, journalistic prose. "For most of my life, my father has been this to me: a silver-haired snapshot, a tarnished ashtray, a broken sword, and a jumble of anecdotes doled out by my mother to the five of us children," he writes. Fletcher constructs an intimate amalgam of brutally honest personal moments, vivid dreams and reverently elicited recollections from his father's contemporaries. An homage not only to his dad but to Harrison's own boyhood joys, sorrows and searching, the book makes clear the author's expansive literary sensibilities. A candid, intricate, painstakingly pieced-together family album.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780803238398
Publisher:
UNP - Bison Books
Publication date:
03/01/2012
Series:
American Lives Series
Pages:
168
Sales rank:
612,466
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.50(d)

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Meet the Author


Harrison Candelaria Fletcher teaches in the MFA in Writing Program at Virginia Commonwealth University. He is the winner of a New Letters Literary Award, High Desert Journal Obsidian Prize, Pushcart Prize Special Mention, and has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award and PEN Center Literary Award.

 

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