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I Will Not Leave You Comfortless: A Memoir

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Spanning one year of the author's life, I Will Not Leave You Comfortless is the intimate memoir of a boy's coming to consciousness in small-town Missouri, from a writer who "is known for beautifully expressive and strikingly lucid prose" (Thisbe Nissen). 1984 is the year that greets Jackson with first loves, first losses, and a break from the innocence of boyhood that will never be fully repaired. The seeming security of family is at once and forever shaken by the life-altering events of that pivotal year. ...
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I Will Not Leave You Comfortless: A Memoir

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Spanning one year of the author's life, I Will Not Leave You Comfortless is the intimate memoir of a boy's coming to consciousness in small-town Missouri, from a writer who "is known for beautifully expressive and strikingly lucid prose" (Thisbe Nissen). 1984 is the year that greets Jackson with first loves, first losses, and a break from the innocence of boyhood that will never be fully repaired. The seeming security of family is at once and forever shaken by the life-altering events of that pivotal year. Through tenderhearted, steadfast prose—redolent of the glories of outdoor life on the family farm—Jackson recalls the deeply sensual wonders of his rural Midwestern childhood—bicycle rides in September sunlight; the horizon vanishing behind tall grasses. Reanimating stories both heart wrenching and humorous, tragic and triumphant, Jackson weaves past, present, and future into the rich Missouri landscape. With storytelling informed by profound sense of place and an emotional memory remarkably sound, Jackson stands poised to join the ranks of renowned memoirists.
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Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Jackson recounts the details of his life in rural Missouri in 1984 when he was 10. Readers witness him navigating the changes that came through the loss of a loved one and a family member moving away. Creating a strong sense of place and time with evocative language, he immerses readers in the midst of a torrential thunderstorm. "I could hear the thunder. Muffled, thuddy thunder. And I could hear my quickened heartbeat. This was not good at all, this basementless tornado-bait farmhouse." Jackson writes about each season, whether the family is harvesting and preserving produce or homebound due to a blizzard, with equal descriptiveness. Sadly, the environment is more engaging than the people. One feels detached while reading about Jeremy and his family coping with a terminal illness, and the inability to connect with anyone makes the book tedious at times. The child's nervousness when purchasing earrings for his crush and the subsequent trepidation about giving them to her are believable, just not captivating. Older teens are perhaps the intended audience, given the small font and the reflective nature of the narrative, yet the plodding events, lack of engagement, and Jeremy's age may dissuade them from staying with it.—Hilary Writt, Sullivan University, Lexington, KY
From the Publisher

"[Jackson] has a poet’s touch with words—simple, lyrical, evocative. . . . I could smell the mulberries crushed underfoot and the sweet steam of the cinnamon roll Grandma heated in the toaster oven just for Jeremy, hear the ever-increasing volume of an approaching late-spring storm. . . . The year of Jeremy Jackson’s life on which he meditates in I Will Not Leave You Comfortless marked his transition from the perfect happiness of childhood to the much more complex reality of adulthood. It records, as well, the abiding comfort that remains—family, home and love."
—Melanie Zuercher, Wichita Eagle

"Jeremy Jackson’s memoir, I Will Not Leave You Comfortless, immerses the reader in the sights, sounds and senses of a happy childhood in rural Missouri just before the digital revolution: a basketball hoop, the smell of pie, rumbling storms, a BB gun, the stain of sour mulberries underfoot in June . . . this local coming-of-age memoir is a sweet record of a time and a place that was not Always On."
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"The air, the weather, the landscape, the emotions, [Jackson's] first girlfriend and the gift he buys her, his troubles, his worries, his observations, all help locate us at the time of his youth and remind us of the noteworthy events of our own childhood . . . I Will Not Leave You Comfortless shines and glides beautifully onward with Jackson's eloquent language, his capturing of the subtle nuances, fears and joys of growing up, and his poetic descriptions of those lovely moments of being a child that many of us were fortunate to have experienced."
—Jim Carmin, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Jeremy Jackson’s swirling memoir is built upon layers of well-chosen detail—it remembers the weather, the geography, the history of plowed earth, the coal-smoke taste of coffee and the aching love between the lines of handwritten letters.  The result is like peering through a new lens at a familiar hillside, or walking through the pastures of your childhood and discovering they were bigger, not smaller, than you recall.  Bigger, not smaller—now that is the mark of a generous writer.”
—Leif Enger, author of Peace Like a River and So Brave, Young, and Handsome

“Jeremy Jackson writes about Missouri as the young Hemingway wrote about Michigan: with a clear eye; with hard-edged nostalgia; and (here's the thing) with brilliance. I was going to add that I Will Not Leave You Comfortless reads like fiction, because it's well designed -- but it doesn't read exactly like fiction. And maybe it's because every word of it is absolutely, searingly true.”
—Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life and Chang and Eng

"In its openness, its lucidity, its leaps of empathy and its quiet perfectionism, this is one of the most daring and affecting memoirs I've read."
—Kevin Brockmeier, author of The Brief History of the Dead and The Illumination

"Abundantly evocative and resonant, I Will Not Leave You Comfortless is an elegy to a year in Jeremy Jackson's boyhood life, an elegy to childhood, to innocence, and to a certain kind of rural American life that Jackson brings to visceral existence, here, in the hazy winter light of remembrance and in the sun-glow of memory. This book is what it felt like to be that boy, that year, on that farm, and it is full of the writing that Jackson is known for: beautifully expressive and strikingly lucid prose."
—Thisbe Nissen, author of Osprey Island and The Good People of New York

“Jeremy Jackson’s swirling memoir is built upon layers of well-chosen detail — it remembers the weather, the geography, the history of plowed earth, the coal-smoke taste of coffee, and the aching love between the lines of handwritten letters. The result is like peering through a new lens at a familiar hillside, or walking through the pastures of your childhood and discovering they were bigger, not smaller, than you recall. Bigger, not smaller — now that is the mark of a generous writer.”
— Leif Enger, author of Peace Like a River

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781571313324
  • Publisher: Milkweed Editions
  • Publication date: 10/2/2012
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 8.70 (w) x 5.80 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeremy Jackson is the author of two novels, Life at These Speeds, a B&N Discover pick, and In Summer, a Booksense Recommends selection. A graduate of Vassar College and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, he lives in Iowa City. Jackson is also the author of young adult novels under the name of Alex Bradley, and cookbooks including, The Cornbread Book, which was nominated for a James Beard Award. He writes about food for the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Post.

In His Own Words. . .
Though I was born in Ohio, I grew up with my family on a farm in the Ozark borderlands of Missouri. We raised cattle and hay and had a garden the size of Texas. At various times we had horses, cattle, a pig, sheep, chickens, ducks, and a pony. We ate a lot of these animals, but not the pony. We also had wild blackberries and persimmons and walnuts on our farm. And a pear tree. And we caught fish in our ponds. We ate some of them, too.

For some crazy reason, I headed off to Vassar College, thinking that I would become a writer. Unfortunately, I did. It was all downhill from there, though the sex was good. From Vassar I went straight into the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where I wrote brilliant stories about bunnies, marbles, and a talking mailbox named Ruth. Then I spent a year writing a novel and a screenplay. Then I went and taught English back at Vassar for two years. Being a professor was a mind-numbing experience, though the sex was good. I quit that job and started being a writer full time, which was very much like being a writer part time except that it took a lot more time and I felt much more guilty when I didn't write anything. I moved from Poughkeepsie back to Iowa, which is kind of like moving from the outer circles of hell to the Garden of Eden.

Not Your Average Memoirist: Six Questions with Jeremy Jackson
by Will Wlizlo

Jeremy Jackson isn’t your typical memoirist. He grew up in rural Missouri and had a mostly happy childhood, unspoiled by the drug addictions, abuse, or financial hardship we’ve come to expect from the genre. His focus, instead, is on the ordinary hard times we’ve almost all faced—the death of a loved one, the fade of a fledgling romance. And yet he evokes the events with a bittersweet clarity, expansive tenderness, and uncommon wisdom that transforms the everyday into the sacred and the personal into the universal. In I Will Not Leave You Comfortless, Jackson chronicles his unforgettable eleventh year, when he lost more than a girlfriend and a Pinewood Derby race. He lost his innocence.

Here, Jackson talks about unboxing his childhood memories, not seeing the weather, and almost getting married in fourth grade.

Milkweed Editions: In the memoir, you take the freshman composition maxim “write what you know” to a whole new level. How did you remember the past with such clarity?

Jeremy Jackson: I wrote Comfortless in part as a way to discover and understand a fuller version of the family’s story than I understood at the time, as a boy. Sort of a “write what you know” plus “write toward what you want to know.”

My memory of my childhood is good, but the book creates an illusion that I remember it spectacularly well. Luckily, I had access to a trove of family documents from the time I was writing about. My most important sources included items like my family’s daily calendars, my grandmother’s journals, and dozens of dated and labeled photographs. But I had many, many more things, like a tape recording of my grandmother’s funeral, my sister’s journal, notes girls at school had written to me, and the notepad that sat at my grandmother’s hospital bedside for months. Additionally, my parents were excellent sources, because they recalled many events that I wasn’t even present for.

So my research helped immensely in recreating a fuller version of the family story than I remember.

While writing Comfortless, what was a once-lost childhood memory you unearthed that was especially pleasurable to remember?

There’s hardly a page of the book (at least the ones where I am present) that doesn’t have some tidbit that I retrieved from the deep reaches of memory. The time our little black cat rode on top of the car to town, for example. Or how I built my Pinewood Derby car backwards that year, and didn’t realize it until the night of the races. Buying earrings for the girl I had a crush on. The way my grandmother would give me cut-up brown paper bags to draw or paint on. Pick a page and I’ll point out something that I had semi-forgotten but recovered during the writing of the book.

In the memoir, life-changing events like your grandmother’s death are presented alongside less weighty memories like losing the Pinewood Derby. As inconsequential as the latter may seem, the experience can be just as memorable as the former. Why do you think everyday experiences loom so large in childhood?

Oh, the world is fresher when you’re a kid, isn’t it? Or, really, you’re fresher, and the things that are happening to you—big and small—are being etched right into your brain.

Your parents were forced to take care of both their young children and their aging parents. What did you learn about caregiving and family resilience during this time?

I think one of the things the book does is show how the generations—of any family—move forward inexorably and simultaneously. One of the structural tensions in the book is the contrast between my grandmother’s story (the older generation passing on) and my sister’s story (the younger generation coming into maturity). The stories in a family can be both sad and triumphant at the same time. During the writing and publication of the book, I also got married and became a father, so I entered a new life stage, and this made me appreciate and understand my parents’ roles as the middle generation taking care of both the younger generation and the older generation.

Comfortless is as much a story of your family as it is of everything in your environment—volatile summer storms, fresh cow’s milk, wild pink mulberries, the smell of Missouri soil. How does place influence you as a writer and as a Midwesterner?

For me, setting is one of the most important and dynamic parts of a story. I love the Midwestern landscape and weather. I lived on the East coast for six years, and I was constantly frustrated that I couldn’t get a good view of the sky or horizon through all the trees and buildings. I couldn’t see the weather! I couldn’t see storm clouds coming, which was upsetting a) because you needed to see them coming so you could be prepared and b) they are beautiful.

In one particularly comic scene, you’re standing in the schoolyard, waiting to get “married” to Toni Renken, a girl in your class. In retrospect, if you could live the crush all over again, what would you do differently?

I still find the concept of our semi-arranged playground marriage to be hilarious. A few years ago I talked with one of the girls who helped organize the “wedding,” and she recalled that she and some of the other girls got into a little bit of trouble over the whole thing. I think the teachers didn’t like them playing at being grown ups so literally.

But really, it just wasn’t meant to be. You can’t force a thing like that.

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Read an Excerpt

A Storm

On the last Wednesday of April, 1983, my grandmother went to a funeral. She drove from the farm to Windsor through the early afternoon sunlight, past pastures where the grass was shin high and rising, past full creeks, past newly plowed fields. In town, the last tulips bloomed in front yards and side yards, the sidewalks were swept, and the streets were shaded by leaves that as of a week ago hadn’t even been born. This was spring in Missouri.

She had heard on the radio about the thunderstorms, but there was no sign of them yet. The day was quiet. She walked from the parking lot to the church through a breeze with no hint of threat to it. She was not a nervous woman, nor unfamiliar with the storms of her part of the country. She had lived in western Missouri her whole life, and she didn’t consider changing the course of her day just because storms were near.

That said, when the funeral was over and she had played the last sustained chord on the organ, she headed straight home. Within the course of an hour, the sky had changed. The sun had slipped behind a veil of high clouds so that the day was still bright, but there were no shadows anymore. She drove west, and once she le! the trees and houses of town she could see the storm clouds in front of her. They were close.

Really, it was a race. She was on a collision course with the storms, and it was simply a master of who would reach the farm first. The clouds that were approaching were not pleasant clouds. They were black and moving fast, like the flagships of night.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2012

    I happened on this book by chance and didn't expect much, but it

    I happened on this book by chance and didn't expect much, but it's one of the most honest, surprising, and heartfelt memoirs I've read in years. It's definitely in the "ordinary lives" camp of personal nonfiction, but the way which Jackson threads together the narratives of different members of his family is nothing short of masterful. The details, pacing, and prose are all so finely crafted that there isn't a single page in the book that isn't drop-dead beautiful. A sad story, yes. But luminous, too. That's quite a trick.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 13, 2012

    I felt so rewarded by reading this book. It¿s the story of one g

    I felt so rewarded by reading this book. It’s the story of one generation passing on while the next generation is still struggling to build their lives and move forward.

    Jackson had an unusual childhood, in a lot of ways, in that it was so idyllic - he was raised on a farm in rural Missouri, surrounded by loving parents, siblings, and grandparents. That idyll is ruptured by illness, death, his sister’s going away to college, and Jackson’s own burgeoning awareness. A ten year old boy at the start, he begins to “come of age” in the course of the story, with the beginnings of a grown-up awareness.

    But, it should be noted, the book is told from a variety of perspectives. His grandparents, parents, and sister each have their own chapters, and voices in the book. Their worlds are gracefully and humanely reconstructed here in this book. A charmed and lovely graceful elegy for a rich, lost world.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2013

    Easy Read

    If you like memorirs this book would be for you. I had to read it for an English Class and it wasnt bad of a read. Easy read for sure.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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