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Just Breathe Normally opens with a traumatic accident. Shattered perceptions and shards of narrative recount the events, from wreck through recovery and beyond. In lyric prose, the stories spiral back through generations to touch on questions of mortality and family, immigration and migration, legacies intended or inflicted. In the wake of her near-fatal cycling collision, Peggy Shumaker searches for meaning within extremity. Through a long convalescence, she reevaluates her family’s past, treating us to a meditation on the meaning of justice and the role of love in the grueling process of healing. Her book, a moving memoir of childhood and family, testifies to the power of collective empathy in the transformations that make and remake us throughout our lives. We all live with injury and loss. This book transforms injury, transforms loss. Shumaker crafts language unlike anyone else, language at once poetic and profound. Her memoir enacts our human desire to understand the fragmented self. We see in practice the power of words to restore what medical science cannot: the fragile human psyche and its immense capacity for forgiveness.
About the Author
Peggy Shumaker is professor emerita of English at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the author of several books of poetry, including Blaze and Underground Rivers. She teaches in the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University.
“Shumaker displays a rare gift. . . . [H]er scattered memories come together to form a riveting and exceptionally touching story. . . . An entrancing meditation on absolution and memory.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Painful healing from a freak bicycle accident burns at the heart of this collection of lyrical anecdotes. . . . Shumaker’s prose possesses throughout a limpid serenity.”—Publishers Weekly
“Shumaker, a poet, has a haunting, lyrical quality to her writing. The words flow and tumble down the page. . . . Reading about pain and loss and fear can be almost as traumatic as experiencing it, and while Shumaker doesn’t dance around it, she writes in such a way that the reader is compelled to follow. . . . Just Breathe Normally is a deft example of using the past to understand and overcome the present.”—Libbie Martin, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
"With Just Breathe Normally, Peggy Shumaker has crafted an unforgettable, transcendent memoir. Full of heartbreaking loss, searing insights, and language both sensual and profound, Shumaker has given us the rarest of gifts: one that not only entertains, but instructs, reminding us that forgiveness isn't something that randomly happens to us, but is painstakingly achieved with diligence, patience, and love."—Michele Poulos, Blackbird
“Just Breathe Normally is an ode to family, to the power of past and the future, worth reading and savoring, like those moments in life that may mean little at the time, but upon reflection, make up the very air we breathe.”—Marcia Herring, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley
“Just Breathe Normally is very much a poet’s memoir. . . . This is a western book not merely because so much of it takes place in the West (principally Arizona and Alaska) but also because it is deeply informed by a sense of place. . . . No doubt, part of the reason Shumaker has been able to write so clearly, honestly, and yet hopefully about pain is because her life has turned out so well. As with any powerful story that ends happily, we must be convinced that the end is deserved, that a fair price has been paid for this happiness. Just Breathe Normally will make you feel the price that we all pay as ‘we push off, wobbly, into the rest of our lives.’”—Western American Literature