“Patchwork Crazy Quilt”

Reviewed by Natalie Boldt

Metaphors come to us (in language and in poetry) full, elastic, and semantically kinetic but not inexhaustible. With use, they empty out, become clichéd, and, finally—sometimes—fail to register as metaphors at all. Follow the etymological trails of most terms in a modern language, writes Owen Barfield in Poetic Diction, and you will find that that language, “with its thousands of abstract terms and its nuances of meaning,” is “nothing . . . but an unconscionable tissue of dead, or petrified, metaphors.”

The conceit that binds together Carla Funk’s new memoir—and first work of creative non-fiction prose—is the “patchwork crazy quilt,” a familiar image (minus the “crazy,” perhaps) but an apt one in this case given that Every Little Scrap and Wonder is, indeed, quilt-like in its configuration. Like a quilt, it is quirky and colourful. It is also delightfully patch-worked—a reminder that while we may solidify our lives into narratives, memories return to us in bits and pieces: revelatory only in retrospect.

Weaving together stories from one year in her life as an adolescent growing up in Vanderhoof, BC—a place resonant with “logging trucks and God”—Funk puts little effort into bending or forcing her memories into a straightforward chronicle of childhood. “Even now, I lay myself down in pieces,” she writes,

become the handiwork . . . as if a glowing needle pulls a thread through all the childhood years, binding all the broken parts—dead dog, lost tooth, weird hymn, burnt hand, beer breath, sad eyes, torn shirt, bloodstain, cracked bone, split lip, hard smile, junk pile, flat tire, black ice, road home, locked door—each fragment lifted from the ash and dust, set right, and given back to wonder.

Though the memoir is structured seasonally (divided into four sections, each with six chapters), each chapter could, in fact, be a standalone essay. Some of these essays are meditations on childhood faith—that paradoxical combination of naiveté and natural wisdom—some on social affectation, on ritual, or on family, but each is rendered in the language and with the creativity one might expect from an experienced poet.

Like Head Full of Sun, The Sewing Room, or others of Funk’s collections, which draw on her religious tradition (Funk was born and raised in a Mennonite church), Every Little Scrap and Wonder makes use of spiritual imagery, symbols, and practices, but mixes metaphors and alters idioms to offer new insights into an old faith and, now, the age-old experience of growing up. Like her poetry, Funk’s prose is also thoroughly unaffected, and she does a marvellous job of balancing lofty poetic insight with straightforward and funny descriptions of childhood experience: boogers, bowel movements, and, in the case of this author, butchering-day grotesqueries.

Kin to a photo album, this book is a kaleidoscopic peak into Funk’s childhood, life in the BC interior, and the quirks and profundities of religious community. It is also a beautiful meditation on the meaning-making exercise that is remembering.

This review ““Patchwork Crazy Quilt”” originally appeared in Canadian Literature, 11 Dec. 2019. Web.

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