Why you should care
Because short reads are sometimes the most delicious.
Sometimes I crave a fat novel that will consume me for weeks, but lately I’ve longed for something slim and energetic, a fast-paced read that doesn’t sacrifice depth. Beth Ann Fennelly’s Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs is a genre-bending collection of brief moments meditating on married love and motherhood, grief and desire, and the unexpected gems of memory that won’t leave us alone. From a childhood slog through a raging blizzard to a doomed rooftop party in Barcelona, Fennelly tells her life stories with sharp wit and lyricism.
The poet laureate of Mississippi, Fennelly created the micro-memoir form out of her three favorite genres, combining, she says, “the precision and compression of poetry, the narrative drive of fiction and the truth-telling of nonfiction.” After collaborating with her husband, Tom Franklin, on a historical novel, a “high-stakes” project that required massive research and took four years, she delighted in the playful new genre. “Writing the pieces was fun; reading from them is fun. Even the way the book came together was belatedly interesting, in the fact that I’d written about half of it before I realized it.”
Heating & Cooling’s pieces range in tone and length, from a single wry sentence to a gripping five-page narrative. My favorite: “A Reckoning of Kisses,” which recounts the poet’s past embraces. Fennelly’s 13 kiss anecdotes range from disappointing to delicious: “I’ll wager that, on the scale of kiss taste, a freshly smoked Marlboro followed by a swig of Bud in a forbidden pool in the chlorinated dark still ranks pretty high.”
… required reading for teenage boys who love the epithet, as well as our Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief.
Fennelly’s feminist vision shines through in pieces about living in a female body, particularly the prose poem “What I Think About When Someone Uses ‘Pussy’ as a Synonym for ‘Weak.’” This searing description of childbirth, which evokes Sylvia Plath and Lucille Clifton, also works as a parable of power and self-determination — required reading for teenage boys who love the epithet, as well as our Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief.
Heating & Cooling moves from hot spots of lyric intensity to cool pauses of humor. Fennelly sums up her husband’s vasectomy in two sentences about frozen peas, and reveals her lead role in the fourth-grade production of Mary Poppins, opposite Vince Vaughn: “Yes, that Vince Vaughn … I don’t particularly recall him as being the one destined for stardom,” she concludes drily. No matter the subject, she resists cliché, illuminating memory with precise language and unexpected metaphors, like the “suit of grief” she wears after her sister’s death. “I wanted the book to have the feeling of the entirety of the human experience,” Fennelly tells me. “Life is funny. Life is ridiculous. Life is very, very sad.”
As Heating & Cooling alternately flares up and chills out, it captures the ordinary and extraordinary moments of existence and renders them all vital. Somehow Fennelly integrates her various selves — writer, mother, daughter, sister, wife, lover, woman — into barely 100 pages, and the book feels like a fever that burns bright and disappears.