Sunshine State: Essays

If readers have yet to discover Sarah Gerard's poignant and unflinching personal essays in the online magazine Hazlitt, then Sunshine State, her brilliant first collection, is an excellent introduction to her work. Gerard (Binary Star) combines memories of growing up in Florida with captivating insight into the state's history. She wrings beauty and heartbreak out of experiences as varied as taking drugs, watching an impoverished best friend grow distant and resentful, and volunteering at a bird sanctuary run by a "blithe, almost charming" but fraudulent ex-model and his cadre of loyal bird-lovers. Taken together, these essays paint a portrait of a state ravaged by economic hardship but enriched by cultural diversity.

Each piece is beautifully written and brimming with compassion for some of Florida's most disreputable people, but "Mother-Father God" is Gerard's most moving and well-observed. It begins with her mother, who after escaping an abusive husband, met the man who'd become Gerard's father. When that relationship starts to disintegrate, the mother seeks solace in Unity-Clearwater, a New Thought church with origins in Missouri, and convinces her husband to join her. From there, the essay takes a historical look at how the church's traditions extend from the teachings of Christian Science and how its practices have changed over time. Gerard's tender and candid look at her family's need for religion serves as commentary on larger matters, like loneliness and abuse. In this way, Sunshine State is a sympathetic examination of not only Florida but of communities everywhere. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Powered by: Xtenit