Half In Shade: Family, Photography, and Fate [NOOK Book]

Overview

“Judith Kitchen has written a book that is at once clear and accessible and at the same time insistently complex. Her effortlessly constructed hybrids make Half in Shade part memoir, part speculation, part essay, a demonstration of the interactive art of seeing, and finally for me, a beautifully sustained meditation. It is at that meditative level that the book’s potent, unsentimental emotive power gathers.”--Stuart Dybek

When Judith Kitchen ...
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Half In Shade: Family, Photography, and Fate

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Overview

“Judith Kitchen has written a book that is at once clear and accessible and at the same time insistently complex. Her effortlessly constructed hybrids make Half in Shade part memoir, part speculation, part essay, a demonstration of the interactive art of seeing, and finally for me, a beautifully sustained meditation. It is at that meditative level that the book’s potent, unsentimental emotive power gathers.”--Stuart Dybek

When Judith Kitchen discovered boxes of family photos in her mother's closet, it sparked curiosity and speculation. Piecing together her memories with the physical evidence in the photos, Kitchen explores the gray areas between the present and the past, family and self, certainty and uncertainty. The result is a lyrical, ennobling anatomy of a heritage, family, mother-daughter relationships, and the recovery from an illness that captures with precision the forces of the heart and mind when "none of us knows what lies beyond the moment, outside the frame."

Judith Kitchen is the award-winning author of several works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Her work has won the Lillian Fairchild Award, a Pushcart Prize, and the S. Mariella Gable Fiction Prize. She has served as judge for the AWP Nonfiction Award, the Pushcart Prize in poetry, the Oregon Book Award, and the Bush Foundation fellowships, among others. The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, Kitchen lives in Port Townsend, Washington, and serves on the faculty and as codirector of the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University.


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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Inspired by “the haphazard collection of boxes and albums” saved by her mother, Kitchen explores and sometimes invents a family’s history in this word montage of the photographs, letters, and journals she found there. It’s a history that moves from Germany to the American Midwest and reaches back into the 19th century and forward into the author’s bout with breast cancer. As Kitchen meditates upon the assorted photographs, the unseen (that little noticed figure in the background; those curious elements in the foreground) catches her eye and thoughts as vitally as the more solid objects: her known and unknown relatives as well as some unknowable strangers, for whom “no names, no places, no clues” exist. “Written over a ten-year period,” this prose poem, masking itself as essays, rewards a leisurely reading, with not only, as Kitchen promises, “patterns of American immigration and opportunities,” but an experience that may open the eyes to the treasure chest of the American experience found among those stepchildren of the arts—the snapshots. Kitchen’s book lets you know what a keen eye coupled with an alert and sensitive intelligence can see. (Mar.)
From the Publisher

"[Half in Shade] rewards a leisurely reading, with not only, as Kitchen promises, "patterns of American immigration and opportunities," but an experience that may open the eyes to the treasure chest of American experience found among those stepchildren of the arts—the snapshots. Kitchen's book lets you know what a keen eye coupled with an alert and sensitive intelligence can see." —Publishers Weekly

“Kitchen’s collaboration with the past serves as a reminder that we of the twenty-first century are neither the first nor the last to know heartbreak.  Rather, we are simply one more snapshot in the collage of humanity—half-blurry proof that none of us are ever truly forgotten.”—LA Review

"Behind the beautiful language Kitchen employs and the poignant moments she unearths, it's the theme of life's instability that resonates most. . . . Using her imagination—and ours—Kitchen creates a testament to the veracity of art: sometimes the fiction is more real than the facts. More importantly, sometimes all the spectator needs to connect the dots is that uncanny sense of familiarity."The Brooklyn Rail

"Half in Shade [is] well worth the read. Together with the photographs, it offers an entertaining, quirky, and sometimes profound trip down memory lane—even if the lane is  not your own." TriQuarterly Review

“Over a ten-year period, Kitchen worked on Half in Shade, trying to come to terms with an inherited collection of family memorabilia that enlightened as much as it confused. . . . Most compelling is her attempt to find out the things she does not know but suspects about her mother, including an unexpected romance.” BookSlut

Half in Shade: Family, Photography, and Fate, takes an intensive look at the intent behind 20th-century photography in general, with specific reflections on what any photo can tell us. . . . [I]t can leave even the least nostalgic of readers wishing they had paid more attention.”—The Quivering Pen

“Kitchen's invitation to look with her at the images she has gathered—a journey of seeking and finding or failing to find—is irresistible, and the company of her assuredly meditative voice makes a reader want to respond in kind. . . . Half in Shade glows with a kind of inspirational energy that will make this book eminently teachable.”—Water Stone Review

"Half in Shade is one of those rare, hypnotically enjoyable books that can be stretched out over many long, lazy afternoons or read in one sitting. Kitchen writes of photographs that 'there is a mystery in a still moment. The very black-and-white of it. It serves as entry into another time, another place.' The same could be said of her words." —ForeWard

"Half in Shade is the work—diligent and curious—of an innocent of sorts, a daughter, mother, and grandmother mapping family stories and myths using grainy images as her guide."—No Such Thing As Was

"Kitchen's ruminations linger long after Half in Shade is finished, leaving readers to question how much we really know about the people who become our parents." Shelf Awareness

"Judith Kitchen has written a book that is at once clear and accessible and at the same time insistently complex. Her effortlessly constructed hybrids make Half in Shade part memoir, part speculation, part essay, a demonstration of the interactive art of seeing, and finally for me, a beautifully sustained meditation. It is at that meditative level that the book's potent, unsentimental emotive power gathers." —Stuart Dybek

Kirkus Reviews
Essayist/novelist Kitchen (The House on Eccles Road, 2002, etc.) muses on memory, history and illness while rummaging through family photos. The author writes that photos capture a physical moment, while memory re-creates the entire atmosphere: how we felt, what sounds we heard, all those things that hover out of the camera's range. As she looks at the disk containing scanned copies of boxes of family snapshots, she is as interested in what they don't show as what they do. Did 23-year-old Aunt Margaret, "Paris, 1938," know that war was imminent? Why on earth would her mother be sitting at a desk with a lampshade over her head, and can she be sure it is her mother? Slowly, from these fragmented snatches of essays (ranging from a single paragraph to 30 pages), a picture of Kitchen's family emerges: German-American immigrants on her father's side, impoverished farmers on her mother's. Her father, a physicist, was so repulsed by the anti-German hysteria he saw as a boy during World War I that he was a conscientious objector during WWII; her mother may have had a serious romance while visiting Europe in the summer of 1930. The section centered on photos from that trip is the book's longest and least appealing; the author's attitude seems punitive, as she criticizes the banality of her mother's travel diary and faults the young woman for being insufficiently unconventional. It's also aggravating, though clearly intended by Kitchen, that facts must be teased out from an extremely elliptical narrative: Where was the house that suffered floods in three different decades? Her father seems to have died young, but when exactly? Still, there are enough intriguing insights to maintain interest, and three meditative passages on the author's battle with breast cancer will incline most readers to cut her some slack. Elegantly written and intermittently perceptive, though slightly self-indulgent in form and tone.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781566893060
  • Publisher: Coffee House Press
  • Publication date: 3/23/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 214
  • File size: 7 MB

Meet the Author

Judith Kitchen is the author of several works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Her work has won the Lillian Fairchild Award, two Pushcart Prizes, and the S. Mariella Gable Award. She has served as judge for the AWP Nonfiction Award, the Pushcart Prize in poetry, the Oregon Book Award, and the Bush Foundation fellowships, among others. The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, Kitchen lives in Port Townsend, Washington, and serves on the faculty and as codirector of the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University.
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Read an Excerpt


Introduction

I have never owned a camera and I never snap photos, except reluctantly when asked by others. I have always relied on memory to call up my personal images of the past. And so it was neither the curiosity of a photographer, nor some literary need to imagine visual images that drew me to the haphazard collection of boxes and albums scattered on the bottom shelves, the ones my mother had managed to save from the floods. I don’t remember anyone ever looking at them, and only later, when it was too late, did I wish I could question the photographers or their subjects. By then I realized I didn’t know who they really were--these strangers we call family--lost now, slipping into the shade. But I wasn’t done with them--or rather, they weren’t done with me. Their stern faces kept turning in my direction, asking me to bring them back to light.

I found myself feeling grateful to those who had captured these earlier generations for me--the professionals who had posed them stiffly in their studios, and the amateurs who had caught them off-guard in moments of frivolity. I became fascinated with the ghost in every photograph--the unseen presence behind the lens whose eye shapes what, and how, we will see.

A photograph sparks reverie and speculation. No two viewers will see it exactly the same way. There’s something about the framing that makes us consider the presence--or absence--of an aesthetic. Snapshots, though, are somewhat exempt from artistic scrutiny. We note the composition, but we do not wonder about the use of negative space. Instead, we search out detail. Snapshots record a real, lived moment in time, lost the very second the shutter clicks.

As I sifted through the rough black scrapbook pages and the newer thin plastic inserts, I had no idea what I would find, or what I hoped to discover. Of course I did find the usual sepia portraits, and the perfunctory snapshots of reunions, first days of school, and summer vacations. But among the predictable photos, I also came across playful moments, oddball scenes, remnants of a past that felt oddly contemporary. I had begun to play detective, digging into my treasure trove for clues. Often, I had no way to identify the subjects, and no one I could ask. What, for example, drove my mother, Lillian, to make her way so far from the farm where she grew up? Who was she, before she became merely my mother? How did my Aunt Margaret actually see her scar? Who were those people who crossed the ocean to build a new country? How did someone else’s family photographs appear, as if by magic, on my disk?

In an era of so many moving images, there is a mystery in the stilled moment. The very black-and-white of it. It serves as entry into another time, another place. I wanted my words to set things in motion. Suddenly--as a writer, not just as a viewer--I had a whole new set of questions. How to avoid description in favor of interaction? How to give “voice” to what is inherent in the visual? How to keep the visual from dominating, making all my thoughts redundant? I found myself experimenting with the placement of the photograph, investigating to see when--and how--the visual became integral and necessary. I used the snapshots as triggering devices, sometimes fixing on one, sometimes weaving them together, joining the generations, so to speak. I put people I’d never seen next to ones I knew intimately. I let them speak to each other, and to me.

My challenge as a writer was not to describe, but to interact. Not to confirm, but to animate and resurrect. The past became my subject, and memory my lens. But memory was often insufficient. In order to insinuate myself into the personal lives of others, I frequently had to rely on probability, supposition, intuition, the half-known, the partially-knowable. Sometimes out of desperation--or desire--I resorted to fantasy.

I became aware of a kind of triangulation: me, the photograph, and its subject(s). From my temporal advantage, I found I could supply what my subjects would never know--the future. I found myself in a kind of time warp in which I knew more than my subject, but less about my subject. My interest was not in uncovering a hidden narrative, or in enhancing a known story, or in revealing a specific character. I wanted to ponder how each individual life was/is framed by circumstance, how we are sometimes called to act, and sometimes merely to reflect.

In some way, snapshots are always retrospective. They take on new meanings as history unfolds. If it could be said that we measure time in wars--“Civil,” “World,” “Vietnam”--then we bring to any photograph the shadow of “before” or “after”: Paris, 1938; Chicago, 1912; Edinburgh, 1964. Over and over, I found myself looking at faces that seemed so innocent. From my vantage in their future, I was able to sense what lay ahead of them. The older the photograph, the less I knew of its subject, but the more the photograph and subject seemed to step back in time, to fit itself into a larger, national history. I realized that, in many respects, the albums revealed patterns of American immigration and opportunities.

Then there were the words, also revelatory in their innocence: my grandfather’s letters, my father’s fragmentary memoir, my mother’s journal, brief glimpses of someone else’s life on the backs of postcards or envelopes, and identifying notations on the photographs themselves. Handwriting so individual and intimate that reality commanded pride of place. These people lived, and the sum of their lives points directly to the precarious present.

Half in Shade was written over a ten-year period. But it took a serious illness to make me realize that, like the people in the snapshots, none of us knows what lies beyond the moment, outside the frame. Each of the book’s three sections closes with a meditation on illness, as though to underscore our fragile ties. In writing about the uncertainties that had entered my own life, I came to understand that I was, in some way, taking my own photograph. Smile. Click. Okay, one more.

TRUEHEART

The journal is dark leather, embossed in gold with “A Record of My Tour Abroad.” Which is just what my mother did--record. June, 1930: Europe caught between two wars, my mother’s world expanding. The twenties a wisp of memory as the country rushed pell mell toward its future.
I open the book to see what was in store for her: flags of all nations, a list of currencies and exchanges, practical tips on everything from luggage to taxis to hotel protocol. “Be sure that your shoes are comfortable, and on shipboard, rubber soles and heels are desirable.” And after that, the diary begins.

I turn the pages to meet the young woman I’ve seen before--the one whose hair is hidden under a dark cloche, standing at the rail of a ship, arms linked with another woman whose hair flies away in the wind. My mother’s dress is dark, with tiny white buttons running down its length, a white collar and--yes--white cuffs. White stockings, too, like the ones worn by her friend whose scarf is thrown carelessly around her neck and whose shoes, with their low heels and delicate strap, give her the shapely look of someone ready for something. My mother’s shoes are the giveaway. Sturdy, flat-heeled shoes that lace. Practical. Good for walking. Good for practically everything--except letting your hair fly out.
Standing at the brink of something large, my mother looks down, and away from the lens. What will she learn about herself as she embarks on this journey? I read to find out:

June 14
There was a movie on board--but we couldn’t see--too many spectators. We danced to a rather blarey electric victrola.
The stewards are the best looking and most interesting people we have met yet. They wear dark blue uniforms with brass buttons and white caps with blue bands and gold lettering. The lounge steward is adorable--he helps to serve tea in the afternoon and he has a charming smile. The dining room steward is nice too--and the captain is dignified, stalwart and commanding looking. We learned how to put on life-savers today.

The photograph was taken early in the trip (the word “leaving” is written lightly in the upper left-hand corner) on board the Letitia, maybe even as it sailed up the St. Lawrence, past Quebec (“lights and lights and blue water and steamers”) and on out into the Atlantic. Maybe before the month (and what a month!)--Glasgow, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Shakespeare country, London, the Hague, Amsterdam, Brussels, Cologne, Wiesbaden, Heidelberg, Interlaken, Lucerne, Munich, Oberammergau, Innsbruck, Venice, Florence, Rome, Genoa, Nice, Avignon, Paris--had worked its magic.
So who is the young woman who looks almost ready to open herself to experience? She has grown up an only child on a farm near North Adams, Michigan--her childhood pinched by poverty. She has worked her way through high school, leaving the farm to “live-in” with a family in town where she takes care of their four children after school. She has worked her way through college as a waitress, spending the long summers working at a resort just south of the Mackinaw Strait. She has found her first job teaching school. And now she is ready:

June 24
Our tour proper began today. We left the hotel early, and it was raining. We took the train 1st to Loch Lomond--the trains have 1st, 2nd, and 3rd class and are divided off into tiny rooms with 2 long seats facing each other. They hold about 10 people, that is, each compartment does. We rode 3rd class and the coaches weren’t bad at all. Then we took a lake steamer and went across Loch Lomond. It was really beautiful--altho’ the rain spoiled full appreciation and we were somewhat disappointed. The mists and fogs hung heavily over the tops of the mountains. Then we alighted and what do you suppose conveyed us next? Open carriages drawn by 4 horses (called tally-hoos). They carried about 20 people, each. It was raining when we started and continued to rain all day.

To whom is she writing this journal? Her question presupposes someone who will share her surprise. As the month goes on, the writing does not deepen into observation, yet it becomes more intensely private, less a record and more a shorthand. A spur. In the end, she seems to be writing for the self she will have become after a dozen years: wife, mother, early-middle-aged woman with memories to resurrect:

July 20
We went to see the Pope’s Palace in Avignon and an old bridge. After dinner, Anne, Eliz. & I went to a French show--had fun watching the people--but I went to sleep & finally we left. Leanna & Laura & 2 other girls met a fellow from Yale who was driving his mother thru Europe & they all rode everywhere & never got in until 7 this morning. I went to sleep about 12, I guess, and this morning Joan & I discussed weighty subjt.--& we’ve decided that ‘love rules everything so we want to be ruled by it, too.’

There’s a terrible innocence here, an innocence I don’t remember ever feeling. I’d like to warn this young woman about life. I’d like to warn her before late July when she will ascend the gangplank of the Tuscania and find her stateroom (112F). I’d like to have a talk with her before she returns home. Before she meets a man called Trueheart with his fascinating tales of his roommate Jo Jo, a millionaire’s son who every so often feels the need to rebel.

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