Mary Jane Nealon (author); BEAUTIFUL UNBROKEN; Graywolf Press (Nonfiction: Autobiography & Memoir) $15.00 ISBN: 9781555975906
Byline: Lisa Romeo
Each year, Graywolf Press publishes the winner of the Bakeless Prize for Nonfiction, and neither the publisher nor the Breadloaf Writers Conference (which administers the Prize) has put forward a wrong foot yet. Mary Jane Nealon's Beautiful Unbroken, the 2010 winner, is another satisfying link in this solid chain. The book leaves a memoir lover both satiated and in search of more from the author, eager to turn pages and sorrowful of approaching the final one. If more poets like Nealon published memoirs, perhaps the much maligned modern genre would find its way back to favor with readers who have grown skeptical.
In Beautiful Unbroken, Nealon traces her path from a childhood overshadowed by unexpected death, through a nursing career and family life. Her journey is fueled as much by compassion and self-surrender as a need to understand what it means to honor the human body, and the connective tissue between self and others.
Coming of age in the 1970s, the author embraces a certain sexual and working girl freedom, selecting a traditional career but with unconventional choices -- moving frequently, remaining single, and finally, working with the first wave of men suffering from HIV/AIDS in New York City hospitals. Everything, eventually, leads her home again, in physical, psychic, and emotional ways.
It is by way of Nealon's...