God help me, but I love this book.
I should preface this by saying I am generally grumpy about the flood of memoirs on the market. As a ghostwriter (and responsible for a dribble of that flood), I often warn my clients: "Everyone has a story. Not everyone has a book." Sadly, almost no one heeds my words.
Yet I approach each memoir with hope. There will be a story. Maybe there will be good writing, too, with a freshness and honesty that a true story can inspire. Often, I am disappointed, but never am I discouraged.
A Little Slice of Sky rewards me mightily. The writing, although that of a mature woman, manages to maintain the slightly awkward, inwardly looking tone of a child, then an adolescent. The very nature of the book speaks of a cheery childhood—it's a printed cover with a watercolor forest and a monotone snapshot of a little girl in braids. Yet the little girl is not smiling. She looks suspiciously at the camera. There is more here than meets the eye.
Ellen Allgaier Fountain grew up in the Idaho panhandle, without TV, phone or nearby neighbors. She and her sisters don't live in giggling "Little House" style. They love the forest, the streams, the animals, and tolerate each other, mostly. But there is no hiding the family's big issues: Dad is tied to the Washington-Idaho Mine, a silver-lead-zinc pit which, it turns out, has never made money for anyone. Being almost destroyed by fire doesn't dampen Dad's ardor. Meanwhile, the mine pollutes a river, kills wildlife, and contributes to the severe depression of Mom. Their marriage breaks up, both parents find other mates, and the daughters are the subject of a custody battle.
Yet Fountain tells her story as a youngster would. Some parts are glossed over, others—time spent on a bench outside a court room, for example, stretch out in close to real time. Through it all are her family photos, which are, well family photos. Nice enough.
Then, there are her paintings. A crocus peeking from the snow. Toes of a child's shoes, nudging a tiny plant. A secret tent, lit from within, in a looming forest. A glittering fish. A house, snug and impossibly lonely. Her colors are bright, her forms clean, her stroke loose and sure. Like the cover, there is more to each one than the subject. More than once, I stopped reading to simply look at the pictures.
All in all, this is a verbal and visual picture of a short period in a woman's life that had an outsized effect on her. It is a picture worth sharing.
Read an excerpt from this book.
Ellen Allgaier Fountain, was born in Lewiston, Idaho in 1942 and spent most of her growing-up years on the west fork of Moon Creek, Idaho where her father ran a small silver-lead-zinc mine. She completed a bachelors in fine art in 1974, and a masters in art education in 1976. It was during graduate school that she discovered watercolor, and it became her primary medium. She has work in the permanent collection of the Tucson Museum of Art and many private collections.
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