Review: Halfway from Home
Sarah Fawn Montgomery's Halfway from Home is an intensely personal journey that flashes a reflective mirror upon American society exposing our collective imperfections and scars. Ever searching for clarity and reconciliation, Montgomery writes: “When I fly home to California from where I live in Massachusetts, crossing time zones and great distances like a space traveler, I spy Nebraska, another former home, another me in another time. No matter when I am or where I go, I am always halfway from home” (28). Halfway from Home takes the reader on a journey through memory and nostalgia. This nonlinear style starts in the opening sequences, beginning in San Miguel, California in 1991 where Montgomery, as her childhood self, digs with her favorite pail to find treasure in a magical backyard hole. Then four paragraphs later we are taken to Morro Bay, California, 1988 where she follows her father along the beach as he walks in the sand, struggling unsuccessfully to leave the same impression as his larger tracks. Almost immediately after, we are again transported to the year 1975, where her father shapes the land with his tools of labor. Just as fast, we are back to 1993, where Montgomery buried her dead frog, and her father could not understand why she was so emotional about it. The author provides the reader with several snapshots of memory from the years 1996, 2008, 2012, 2015, and so on.
In spite of the non-linear narrative, the first section of essays, Dig Site, is tied together by the author’s perspective of events and the earth itself. Through each segment of time, we learn more about the relationship between the author, her family, her environment and how her perceptions of the same events changed with maturity and exposure. For example, in 2015 we learn that her magical hole for finding treasure as a child were trinkets planted by her father when the author was not looking. This is an example of how the childhood innocence is lost, just as she realizes the hole in her backyard was not magic, her father becomes less of a heroic figure and more of a broken man struggling to make meaning in the world after he loses his job. This theme of moving across time, and space to make meaning repeats through the entirety of Halfway from Home.
Montgomery's writing is enhanced by her ability to seamlessly weave in metaphors and analogies that highlight her themes of growth and acceptance:
“The queen searches for wood fiber from trees, logs, fences, cardboard left by the side of the road. She builds a home by stripping out the insides of another. Her jaws are strong and she chews fibers to a soft pulp. To build the walls of her home she spits out what she has ground down to nothing. She empties herself to house others. The queen exists in an endless act of leaving, searching, only to be compelled back, called home” (42).
Montgomery then relates how a wasp, simply by making a home for themselves, impacted her own new home with an infestation—the same home she wanted to leave, just as wasps abandon their home each season.
“Soon it is impossible to escape the sound of the growing threat. Buzzing builds along with a bubble beneath the balcony where I sit to escape [...]
Montgomery’s ability to weave such lessons about the physical world and natural phenomena into the personal essays of discovery and loss, offers a glimpse into her sensitivity and intellectual prowess, all the while reflecting on the state of society.
Throughout Halfway from Home it becomes evident that Montgomery is a scholar with a skill for effectively offering numerous lessons that stimulate the mind yet pull on the heart strings. The book concludes with a gut-wrenching final chapter of watching her father slowly deteriorate due to illness. Although Halfway from Home explores many themes and relationships, it is ultimately a cathartic series of essays of how a little girl, who loves her father through all his imperfections, travels the country, grows into a woman, and returns home to be by his side in his final hours.
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