University of Georgia Press
168 Pages; Print, $24.95
In the opening pages of Lost Wax, we meet its author, Jericho Parms, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As she examines a work by Degas, offering fresh, beautiful prose to describe it and interjecting with the personal memories his piece evokes in her, she invites us to join her in considering the intersection of truth, beauty, art, and memory. For the first few pages, we move with her from one work to another, and the feeling that we are wandering through a museum sticks with us for the entirety of this compilation of nonfiction essays. Instead of a museum filled with art, however, it is one filled with Parms’s memories.
Parms takes us on a journey through the galleries of her mind. We get lost and turned around with her; we stumble upon unexpected things; we discover connections between two things that we never would have had they not been placed side by side; we learn to appreciate things even when we can’t understand them, to observe the tiny details of life that normally pass us by.
Parms’s engagement with works of art does not stop with the book’s opening. Throughout her essays she continues to connect her memories with various art forms, from painting to sculpture to music to literature. In doing so she demonstrates the beauty that can be found in the seemingly mundane. She is fascinated by the details of day-to-day life, the scratch on the wing of a dead moth, fingerprints on a dusty dashboard, the way silver sardines lie on a plate.
The stories she tells are extremely relatable. Readers will be able to see themselves in her stumbles and falls, her nostalgia, her tragedies, in her examination of the uncertainty and pain of youth combined with its ever-present energy and exhilaration. There are memories she is fond of and memories from which she wishes she could free herself, but they have all created her as she is today, and thus she feels obliged to examine them.
Yet, despite the fact that Parms often tells the kind of stories we already know, of her parents’ marriage falling apart before her eyes, of falling in love for the first time, of the lessons one learns while climbing a mountain, her unique writing style and ability to weave these memories into descriptions of artwork make these stories new again. It is no easy task, for example, to tell a compelling, original story that begins with a child refusing to eat the carrots on her dinner plate, but Parms does it, and the instant she quotes Cézanne’s view of carrots as part of the piece, we know she has done something special. At times, her art references can feel a bit cumbersome, but all in all, Parms’s stories are a pleasing balance between something we can all relate to and something we’ve never seen before.
Parms’s stories are not told chronologically. Memory, after all, does not operate like that. In the same way that memories leave and enter our consciousness in varying patterns and connect with one another in unexpected ways, so too do Parms’s stories as she attempts to piece together her life and make sense of the various ways she has lived it. Sometimes, she’ll tell stories in a typical fashion and other times she’ll tell them in small, paragraph-length vignettes, highlighting the way memories can sometimes flash briefly in and out of our minds.
Parms also spends time focusing on the limitations of language, on her inability to find the right words to describe “the euphoria of being young and high and falling in love” or “the taste of sweetness” or “the scent of Sundays” or “the sound of snow crunching underfoot.” It is rare for a writer to call attention to her weaknesses and to directly communicate to the reader that there is an experience she is unable to describe. Typically, doing so would unnecessarily reveal a fault...