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Robert Root

Publication Year: 2013

Reflecting on how a student’s parents met because of a fly ball to center field in a summer softball game, author Robert Root wondered how the lives of that student’s parents and of the student himself would have changed had the batter bunted or struck out. Haunted by this pure example of happenstance, he began to ponder his own existence, dependent in part on geology (the Niagara Escarpment) and history (the Erie Canal). He wondered how happenstance had influenced the course of his parents’ lives, in particular their marriages (they married and divorced each other twice), and consequently the shaping of his identity. Happenstance investigates the effects of that phenomenon and choice on one man’s life.
Root explores this theme in interwoven strands of narrative, interpretation, and reflection. One strand, “The Hundred Days,” follows his attempt to write one hundred journal entries, each about a different day in his life, to recover memories of specific moments or collections of moments. In the strand headed “Album,” he examines and interprets old family photographs in light of the way he reads them in the present, as someone now privy to a family secret that directed his and his siblings’ lives without their knowledge. Interspersed among these brief interpretations and narratives are reflections on happenstance and choice, a sequence contemplating their effect on his life and perhaps on all our lives. Through juxtaposition and accumulation, the book’s incremental unraveling of meaning imitates the process of unexpected epiphanies and gradual self-discovery in anyone’s life.
By revisiting individual days, giving voice to photographs that mutely preserve family moments, and reflecting on the way happenstance and choice determine the directions lives take, Robert Root generates a meditation on identity anchored in an album in words and images of a mid-twentieth-century life.

Published by: University of Iowa Press


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pp. C-C

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quotes

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-x

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pp. 1-32

This was my plan: to write about one hundred days of my childhood in the next one hundred days of my age, to capture one hundred recollections of the past over one hundred days of the future. I did a little math to estimate how hard the task might be. Multiplying the number of days in a year by the number of years in a decade (and ignoring leap years), I...

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pp. 33-60

I sometimes think I’m engaging in the equivalent of constructing a museum diorama of the Paleolithic epoch based entirely on conjecture—the fossilized remains of flora and fauna, the approximation of radio carbon dating, a correlation with existing habitats, guesswork, imagination. For example, I seem to have no head-on, deliberate recording of the exterior ...

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pp. 61-108

The living room of my grandparents’ house was the center of family life in the years I lived in that house, and I instantly identify familiar furniture in the background of family photos. I recognize an upholstered chair positioned by a window, the burgundy-colored davenport—the source of my knowledge of the word “burgundy” as a color—along the wall below ...

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pp. 109-142

I have a memory that I can’t exactly date but, like so many memories, I can, more or less, envision the context and, even more firmly, more or less, remember the punch line. I struggle to envision a clearer context, but my memory is adamant about refusing me entry here....

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pp. 143-176

My earliest memory of going to the movies is connected to Joan of Arc, a film starring Ingrid Bergman. I remember sitting with my mother in one of the back rows of the center downstairs section of the Palace Theatre and Ingrid Bergman’s helmeted head filling up the screen. I also remember moving toward the aisle, my mother behind me, with perhaps the credits or a trailer for another film rolling. I only remember bits and ...

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pp. 177-242

As the smallest among a group of burly classmates filing into the classroom to listen to the marine recruiter, I felt conspicuous and almost comically out of place. But for once I tamped down my self-consciousness and listened attentively to the tall athletic young man in marine dress uniform—the best uniform in all the services, in my view, and the one...


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pp. 243-246

Further Reading

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pp. 247-248

E-ISBN-13: 9781609382209
E-ISBN-10: 160938220X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781609381912
Print-ISBN-10: 1609381912

Page Count: 258
Illustrations: 49 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1st ed.

OCLC Number: 858230063
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Happenstance

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Root, Robert L. -- Childhood and youth.
  • Root, Robert L. -- Family.
  • Lockport (N.Y.) -- Biography.
  • Geology -- Niagara Escarpment.
  • Chance.
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