This collection, as much of Beard’s work, is a lesson in sustained tension. Beard’s essays thrive on ordinary set pieces: in setting (farmhouses, woods, and sprawling undulations of cornfields), in characters* (adolescent girls, middle aged women, husbands, dogs, ex-husbands, bad men), and in feeling (love, grief, survival, anger, etc). What makes them extraordinary is that Beard controls time. She can drag it out or speed it up, each story choreographing tension through rhythmic phrasing and staccato paragraphs of action between tangents into memory. All you must do is immerse yourself in the long sentences, languorous before the punch. *oftentimes, herself– Miranda <3
When “The Fourth State of Matter,” her now famous piece about a workplace massacre at the University of Iowa was published in The New Yorker, Jo Ann Beard immediately became one of the most influential writers in America, forging a path for a new generation of young authors willing to combine the dexterity of fiction with the rigors of memory and reportage, and in the process extending the range of possibility for the essay form.
Now, with Festival Days, Beard brings us the culmination of her groundbreaking work. In these nine pieces, she captures both the small, luminous moments of daily existence and those instants when life and death hang in the balance, ranging from the death of a beloved dog to a relentlessly readable account of a New York artist trapped inside a burning building, as well as two triumphant, celebrated pieces of short fiction.
Here is an unforgettable collection destined to be embraced and debated by readers and writers, teachers and students. Anchored by the title piece––a searing journey through India that brings into focus questions of mortality and love—Festival Days presents Beard at the height of her powers, using her flawless prose to reveal all that is tender and timeless beneath the way we live now.