Book reviews

To Boldly Go by Anesa Miller

Ms. Miller’s slim collection of essays captures longings and struggles; the navigation of sorrow, hope, and what makes us smile.  I read TBG in two enthralled sittings.  Reading it was like visiting with an intimate friend.  The essays can perhaps be savored singly, but not for this reader.  I needed to read them all.  I had just completed Ms. Miller’s compelling novel, Our Orbit, scheduled for a February 2014 Amazon release, and was keen to know what makes Ms. Miller tick.

Two essays that especially stood out were “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” and “Farewell to Matyora.”  “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” deals with estrangement from a loved one.  In the two decades preceding his death, Ms. Miller and her father’s dealings with each other were largely limited to letters.  In them Anesa would request to meet with her father alone, in the absence of her stepmother.  Her requests were always denied. 

After her father’s passing, a loss made no less painful by their long estrangement and indeed more painful when Anesa and her brother were barred from the funeral and shut out of his will, she found a way to mourn.  Accompanied by her adult daughter, Anesa performed a ritual of her own devising. 

In a field, some of the letters exchanged between Anesa and her father are burned.  Using the executor of her father’s estate as a go-between, Anesa obtains permission from her stepmother to trespass for a few hours upon the grounds of her childhood home.  There, recreating a practice she learned as a young girl from her mother, ribbons and thread and other small mementos are draped on branches and placed in the hollows of trees for the birds to make new nests.  Ashes of the letters from her father are scattered in the backyard garden.

“Farewell to Matyora” reads a bit like a fable.  Ms. Miller cleverly dips in and out between that story tradition and the essay to tell of the fictional Darya, who, we gather from clues dropped elsewhere in TBG, is a stand-in for Miller.  Darya has enjoyed several years of academic success, first as a Russian Language and Literature undergrad, next as a Russian Language Ph.D. candidate.  She has successfully defended her dissertation, published a respectable number of articles, and won academic prizes.  All those accolades make palatable her recent toil instructing undergrads in an unnamed university’s Russian Language department.  At last a position more worthy of Darya’s resumé comes available.  While not the tenure-track one of her dreams, it at least promises remuneration greater than that of a Walmart associate, which is the wage she currently enjoys. 

Oddly, none of the Language Department personages have alerted her to this new position.  Only her dogged job searching has unearthed it.  Despite her solid academic record, the search committee seems intent on regarding her candidacy with an embarrassing lack of enthusiasm. 

Darya is left to second-guess and quietly fume why she is being passed by.  Did someone catch her with spinach stuck between her teeth? Was it a failure to laugh heartily enough at a colleague’s witticisms? Her refusal to perform sufficient tedious side duties outside her job qualifications?

What ensues is Darya’s war: a lone woman fighting the university’s entrenched academics, labyrinthine procedures, and opaque protocols.  The reader follows her through several bitterly witty, slightly absurd situations as she is genteelly bulldozed from the ivory tower.  “Matyora” is a cautionary tale of what awaits those who don’t bow deeply enough to the gods of academia. 

To Boldly Go by Anesa Miller is available at Amazon.com.

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