Powell’s Picks Spotlight: Margaret Renkl’s ‘Late Migrations’

What a gorgeous meditation on life — all of it, from delicate moments of peace in a backyard garden to the life-altering landmarks of birth, death, love, and loss. Two intertwined narratives weave a loving portrait of nature, family, and the beauty of every small moment. — Mary S.

In an essay titled “Not Always in the Sky,” Margaret Renkl writes about her neighbors’ delight over an eagle that’s decided to nest in one of the trees on their street: “The bird is clearly a red-tailed hawk, but I don’t say anything to my neighbors. People want to believe that something extraordinary has happened to them, that they have been singled out for grace, and who am I to rob them of the one sheen of enchantment still available in the first-ring suburbs?”

True to its author’s generosity, Late Migrations offers one “sheen of enchantment” after another, as Renkl guides the reader on parallel journeys through her family’s recent history and the cultivated wilderness of her suburban backyard. Renkl is a self-proclaimed “Googler” naturalist — someone who has spent a lifetime trampling through the rural and suburban areas of Alabama and Tennessee, and who feeds her curiosity and appetite for astonishment with avid Internet searches and calls to her local wildlife organizations.

Though Renkl calls out her lack of formal training, the humble gesture’s unnecessary: even the essays devoted to family stories and recollections are evocative of the flora and fauna of the South; in joining the narratives of seasons passing and human birth and death, Renkl, who has spent the last several years providing eldercare for her parents and in-laws, makes an arresting case for accepting the cycle of life in all its glory and loss.

In a starred review, Publishers Weekly writes, “In this magnificent debut….Renkl instructs that even amid life’s most devastating moments, there are reasons for hope and celebration…Readers will savor each page and the many gems of wisdom they contain.” Far too artful to be self-help, Late Migrations nonetheless soothes the wounded heart with its gentle insistence on accepting pain with the same grace and perseverance as the natural world Renkl cherishes watching.

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