It's hard to review a book that's already made it to the level of being a Minnesota Book Awards Finalist, but after finishing it, I felt compelled to tell more people about it.
Written throughout with vivid and poetic prose, Tevis connects short essays that, in addition to careful examination of their subject(s), often center on questions of reclamation and preservation. The title itself comes from a collection of animals and animal pieces preserved in the basement of a natural history museum and the interactions she had with the curator while looking through the various specimens.
So, what's reclaimed and what's preserved? What then is left behind and abandoned in those processes? Who has the ability and desire to sift through what's been forgotten and restore it? Tevis gives us histories, family legends, scenic vistas, and minute artifacts that swirl and blend time, emotion, religion, distance, attention and affection.
There are paragraphs that shine on nearly every page, like the specimens in jars that entrap a visitor's gaze/attention/imagination. Here's a quick taste from an essay focusing on the life of a single pioneer woman who lived very near where Joni spent the summer working as a guide for the Forest Sevice in Oregon. She's writing at the start of a burgeoning relationship:
Today we watched doves drop like rain from a black maple; yesterday I felt his throated speech thrum beneath my fingertips' this morning I woke with him, convinced we had just dreamed the same dream. All these things are mine, but I've given something up, too: late at night, by the lake, meteors pitch toward earth, and I'm not there to see it. A solitary life I turned away from. A life another woman lived ("The Rain Follows the Plow" p.76).
If you enjoy rich prose, careful reflection and writing that seems to defy genre, I strongly suggest this book.