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Just Breathe Normally

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Overview


Just Breathe Normally opens with a traumatic accident. Shattered perceptions and shards of narrative recount the events, from wreck through recovery and beyond. In lyric prose, the stories spiral back through generations to touch on questions of mortality and family, immigration and migration, legacies intended or inflicted.
 
In the wake of her near-fatal cycling collision, Peggy Shumaker searches for meaning within extremity. Through a long convalescence, she reevaluates her family’s past, treating us to a meditation on the meaning of justice and the role of love in the grueling process of healing. Her book, a moving memoir of childhood and family, testifies to the power of collective empathy in the transformations that make and remake us throughout our lives.
 
We all live with injury and loss. This book transforms injury, transforms loss. Shumaker crafts language unlike anyone else, language at once poetic and profound. Her memoir enacts our human desire to understand the fragmented self. We see in practice the power of words to restore what medical science cannot: the fragile human psyche and its immense capacity for forgiveness.
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Editorial Reviews

Mark Spragg

“Here’s the truth of a single life presented in scenes so lyric, so honest, so encompassing, that in reading Just Breathe Normally I felt guided into wakefulness. Peggy Shumaker has rendered a masterpiece. This is the finest memoir I’ve read in years.”

—Mark Spragg, author of An Unfinished Life

NewWest.Net

“[Shumaker’s] poetry background is evident in every carefully sculpted sentence of her memoir, Just Breathe Normally. This book is more than just pretty prose, though. It’s a gripping account of one woman’s struggle through a potentially life-ending accident and through her chaotic childhood. . . . . Just Breathe Normally is what a book should be: moving and multi-layered. There is a surprise in the ending, which I won’t ruin, but after knowing it, the previous passages become even more interesting. Pick up Just Breathe Normally, it just might change the way you breathe, and think.”—Paula Younger, NewWest.Net

— Paula Younger

themillions.com

"A captivating and lyrical memoir."—Amy Halloran, themillions.com

— Amy Halloran

Big Muddy

Just Breathe Normally is an ode to family, to the power of past and the future, worth reading and savoring, like those moments in life that may mean little at the time, but upon reflection, make up the very air we breathe.”

—Marcia Herring, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley

Blackbird

"With Just Breathe Normally, Peggy Shumaker has crafted an unforgettable, transcendent memoir. Full of heartbreaking loss, searing insights, and language both sensual and profound, Shumaker has given us the rarest of gifts: one that not only entertains, but instructs, reminding us that forgiveness isn't something that randomly happens to us, but is painstakingly achieved with diligence, patience, and love."—Michele Poulos, Blackbird

— Michele Poulos

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

“Shumaker, a poet, has a haunting, lyrical quality to her writing. The words flow and tumble down the page. . . . Reading about pain and loss and fear can be almost as traumatic as experiencing it, and while Shumaker doesn’t dance around it, she writes in such a way that the reader is compelled to follow. . . . Just Breathe Normally is a deft example of using the past to understand and overcome the present.”—Libbie Martin, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

— Libbie Martin

Western American Literature

Just Breathe Normally is very much a poet’s memoir. . . . This is a western book not merely because so much of it takes place in the West (principally Arizona and Alaska) but also because it is deeply informed by a sense of place. . . . No doubt, part of the reason Shumaker has been able to write so clearly, honestly, and yet hopefully about pain is because her life has turned out so well. As with any powerful story that ends happily, we must be convinced that the end is deserved, that a fair price has been paid for this happiness. Just Breathe Normally will make you feel the price that we all pay as ‘we push off, wobbly, into the rest of our lives.’”—Western American Literature

Mark Spragg

“Here’s the truth of a single life presented in scenes so lyric, so honest, so encompassing, that in reading Just Breathe Normally I felt guided into wakefulness. Peggy Shumaker has rendered a masterpiece. This is the finest memoir I’ve read in years.”—Mark Spragg, author of An Unfinished Life

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner - Libbie Martin

“Shumaker, a poet, has a haunting, lyrical quality to her writing. The words flow and tumble down the page. . . . Reading about pain and loss and fear can be almost as traumatic as experiencing it, and while Shumaker doesn’t dance around it, she writes in such a way that the reader is compelled to follow. . . . Just Breathe Normally is a deft example of using the past to understand and overcome the present.”—Libbie Martin, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
Blackbird - Michele Poulos

"With Just Breathe Normally, Peggy Shumaker has crafted an unforgettable, transcendent memoir. Full of heartbreaking loss, searing insights, and language both sensual and profound, Shumaker has given us the rarest of gifts: one that not only entertains, but instructs, reminding us that forgiveness isn't something that randomly happens to us, but is painstakingly achieved with diligence, patience, and love."—Michele Poulos, Blackbird
Big Muddy - Marcia Herring

Just Breathe Normally is an ode to family, to the power of past and the future, worth reading and savoring, like those moments in life that may mean little at the time, but upon reflection, make up the very air we breathe.”—Marcia Herring, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley
Western American Literature

Just Breathe Normally is very much a poet’s memoir. . . . This is a western book not merely because so much of it takes place in the West (principally Arizona and Alaska) but also because it is deeply informed by a sense of place. . . . No doubt, part of the reason Shumaker has been able to write so clearly, honestly, and yet hopefully about pain is because her life has turned out so well. As with any powerful story that ends happily, we must be convinced that the end is deserved, that a fair price has been paid for this happiness. Just Breathe Normally will make you feel the price that we all pay as ‘we push off, wobbly, into the rest of our lives.’”—Western American Literature

Publishers Weekly

Painful healing from a freak bicycle accident burns at the heart of this collection of lyrical anecdotes by Alaskan poet Shumaker. From the moment of impact with a wild-driving kid on an ATV in 2000, as the author is cycling along a highway in Fairbanks with her husband, Joe, she must find a way back from near-death to a meaningful life. Her work is a combination of diarylike entries made during and after her recovery (she suffered from a skull fracture, small strokes, a collapsed lung and a broken finger) and memories from childhood growing up with a frustrated single mom in Tucson, Ariz. These past snippets reveal her mother's Norwegian farm roots and early, bitter, short-lived marriage to the man who got her pregnant; subsequently, Shumaker, as the oldest sibling, had to care for her two younger sisters and brother as their mother spiraled downward, working low-wage jobs, bringing men home and suffering increasing ill health from asthma. In the present sections, the author, hospitalized on and off as her injury-related ailments recur, has to decide to forgive or prosecute the rough-riding boy on the ATV, who is 17 and grudgingly contrite about the accident. Overall, the past and present sections overlap uneasily and seem to constitute two separate literary enterprises, although Shumaker's prose possesses throughout a limpid serenity. (Sept.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
In this entry in Tobias Wolff's American Lives series, Shumaker displays a rare gift to reinterpret what often seems like wanton aggression. In June 2000, the author and her husband Joe were bicycling along a bike path near their home in Fairbanks, Alaska, when a teenager on a four-wheeler barreled around a corner and struck them both. Joe suffered minor injuries, but the author's were catastrophic, leaving her bedridden and weak for months. Most devastating was the skull fracture and resulting brain damage, which temporarily misplaced parts of her memory. Her memoir is an account of her attempts to reconstruct not just the events surrounding the accident, but also of her earlier years. Told in gem-like vignettes (few are more than two pages), her scattered memories come together to form a riveting and exceptionally touching story. This is not just an exercise in reconstruction, but also in forgiveness, as Shumaker struggles to come to terms with her feelings not just for the youth who almost ended her life, but also her reckless, abusive mother, who died when Shumaker was just 16, and her equally-reckless, but often-absent, father, both of whom were just teenagers when Shumaker was born. Alcoholism and depression ravaged the author's childhood, forcing her to become a parent to her three younger siblings, but her generous attempts to understand her parents elevates the narrative above the usual hard-luck story and transforms it into something much more delicate and lovely. The structure of the narrative-in which details of Shumaker's accident, recovery and childhood experiences are interwoven and only gradually disclosed-maintains such a high level of tension that, even at the end,secrets are revealed. An entrancing meditation on absolution and memory.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803210950
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2007
  • Series: American Lives
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 278
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author


Peggy Shumaker is professor emerita of English at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the author of several books of poetry, including Blaze and Underground Rivers. She teaches in the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2007

    A reviewer

    The ability to overcome pain and damage may be one's greatest asset. Shumaker allows us to view the traumas of her life ... starting with the accident that nearly ended it ... and -- in an attempt to reconstruct the lost memories -- other wrecks and pitfalls as she grew up. She questions her own values, and learns from what she decides matters most -- simply being able to return to a normal life she treasures. Insights such as these may offer others the ability to recover ... a worthwhile objective, by most anyone's standards.

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