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Digital Subscriptions > Quill & Quire > June 2017 > Where the heart is

Where the heart is

Sharon Butala’s new book charts her path out of grief following the death of her husband

MEMOIR

NEIL SPEERS

Where I Live Now: A Journey through Love and Loss to Healing and Hope

Sharon Butala

Simon & Schuster Canada

GIVEN THAT the one absolute certainty about life is that it will end, it would make sense for adults to come to psychological terms with the fact of their own deaths and consider the effect of the potential death of a partner. But it’s also not so surprising they often don’t – or can’t – bring themselves to do this. Coming to grips with mortality is a challenge, and in the case of the death of a partner, the one left behind is forced to negotiate a path of grief that can be overwhelming. In her latest memoir, Sharon Butala describes the enormous changes in her life that resulted from the death of her husband, Peter, a man to whom she had been married for 31 years and for whom she gave up city life in favour of a remote ranch in southwest Saskatchewan.

Butala’s first work of non-fiction, the 1994 bestseller The Perfection of the Morning: An Apprenticeship in Nature, lays the foundation for Where I Live Now. Both books extol the benefits of nature, in particular that of the Great Plains landscape on which the Butala ranch (which she sold after her husband’s death) was situated. Readers of the earlier book may have an easier time with the new one, which features a somewhat disjointed structure that ranges backward and forward across time.

In the first chapter, Butala describes making a trek from her new home in Calgary to Peter’s grave. She mentions Joan Didion’s grief memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, calling the author “famously cryptic, famously silent.” Butala’s own writing contains some elements of Didion, and the effect is to create the appearance of intimacy while actually keeping the reader at a distance. It’s an odd pose to take, and one that I don’t quite understand.

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