by Floyd Skloot; Lincoln, Nebraska, University of Nebraska Press, 2005, 199 pages, $24.95
Dr. Joy is a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Presque Isle Psychiatric Associates in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Floyd Skloot. I was excited to receive his new book, A World of Light, for review because I thought I recognized his name from my forays, however brief, into the brilliant world of literary periodicals. And I was right: portions of this very book appeared as chapters in 12 such journals, including The Antioch Review, Prairie Schooner, and Boulevard.
A slim volume at 199 pages, A World of Light is a memoir, a series of 15 essays drawn from the life of the author. Its cover is graced by a warm-brown photographic illustration presenting the underside of the wooden roof of a circular house, perhaps the very circular house that figures largely in the later essays as the author's residence.
I enjoyed reading about that circular house, a place deep in the woods of western Oregon where Skloot lives with his wife, Beverly. Their domestic adventures there, coping with inadequate wells or a powerful snowstorm, make for some fine reading. I also enjoyed the several chapters of autobiography and biography. Skloot writes about his childhood years in Brooklyn and Long Island and about the histories of his grandparents in Europe and an earlier America.
I learned that Floyd Skloot had determined the desire to be a poet while in college and pursued "the writer's life" as an adult. He adopted the Irish writer Thomas Kinsella as a mentor, early on, and later took the opportunity to pursue a month-long writer's residency on a remote sea island in Ireland. Those episodes made for some fine reading, too. Along the way Skloot contracts serious encephalitis that ravages his mental abilities and necessitates an arduous rehabilitation and lengthy recovery that still progresses for him.
That neurological reality may help account for Skloot's intense consideration of his mother's neurological condition, a consideration that occupies the opening chapters of the book. Lillian Rosen, Skloot's mother, is a resident of the memory impairment unit of a long-term care facility and is seriously demented. The first several essays in A World of Light describe visits to his mother. I found these chapters a little more difficult to read, probably because the memory impairment unit was not my first choice of somewhere to go. These chapters were also difficult because the author's overtly ambivalent feelings toward his mother are associated with a subtle but painful lack of humor in their interactions.
My tough sledding in the section about the nursing home, however, reflects well on the vivid success of Floyd Skloot's writing style. With the absence of apparent effort that is characteristic of an adept magician, Skloot conjures up whatever setting he wishes with expert effect and takes us with him. A World of Light is a fine exercise in nonfiction. I recommend it.