Essayist sets lifes questions to music
By Elizabeth Buzzelli
DRIVING WITH DVORAK:
Essays on Memory and Identity
By Fleda Brown
University of Nebraska Press
If the unexamined life, as Socrates said, isnt worth living, then Fleda Browns is truly a valuable life. Her new book: Driving with Dvorak: Essays on Memory and Identity, could have been a memoir, except that it isntexactly.
What it is are snapshots -- or maybe better -- X-rays from an ordinary life: father, mother, two sisters, three husbands, children, a retarded brother who dies young, a decaying summer cottage on Michigans Central Lake, other American places: east, west, Midwest. Scenes from a womans life, a poets life, that dive beneath the surface to return with reasons, discoveries, new understanding, new pain, new acceptance -- all the bits of life that make us human beings.
First there is the father, a prominent person in the book and in Browns life. In the title essay, he is old, he is angry, and she goads him as she did as a teen. Her sin? She used too much dish soap while washing dishes. She is 44, a grown woman, and doesnt think she has to tolerate his fits of anger, his penuriousness, his inability to act in his own best interest, and even his self-loathing. She talks back only to have him yell, By God, Ill hit you. Maybe this is where the book begins, with a need to know this man, this husband, this father. Then maybe to learn something valuable about herself.
What she can share with her father is music. Therefore Dvorak, Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky. Not in an intellectual joust but in the silent ways music connects person to person, down in what Brown calls an inarticulate core.