Kalos Press
a literary imprint of Doulos Resources

The Exact Place

Memoirs are like travel books: we love them not because of where we go, but who we go there with. It matters who tells the story. We know this in our own lives: a weekend at home with someone we love, with whom we feel at ease, whom we respect, is better than a week in Paris with a shallow egotist or talkative bore. Someone who doesn't love us.

Which brings me to the latest offering from Kalos Press, Margie L. Haack's childhood reminiscence and tale of spiritual beginnings, The Exact Place.

I don't know a thing about northern Minnesota and had, I confess, never heard of the Northwest Angle, where Haack was born and raised in rural poverty. That forbidding landscape, with its special hardships (cold, isolation) and special delights (blueberry picking!) plays a crucial part in Haack's story, engendering fears and longings, shaping identity and character. Shotgun houses, a loving mother, a distant stepfather, siblings, dogs and horses, eccentric neighbors, the unpleasant discovery, thanks to school, of one's low social standing--all make their appearance. But I love The Exact Place for a different reason.

This is--I mean it as a compliment, a huge one--a peculiar book. It belongs to two familiar genres, the personal memoir and spiritual autobiography, but isn't quite what one expects from either. Its strength, and the greatest of its many pleasures, is its author's voice, a voice so stubbornly itself it cannot be described without danger of violation. It possesses a distinctive timbre. Alice Munro, in her story "Queenie," describes her title character's laugh as "sweet and rough like brown sugar." That's close. Haack's voice is that, and also full of small surprises, little quirks--it manages, I don't know how, to be at once both charming and starkly serious.

The Exact Place is not, despite its charm and humor, a funny book--it brings back all too painfully the disappointments, terrors and humiliations of our early years and especially, that dread combination of love and shame one feels, sometimes, for one's own family. It reminds one of the gravity of childhood, of the seriousness, right from the beginning, of our spiritual yearnings, our recognition of personal guilt, our desire to be loved without condition. In a beautiful early passage, Haack recalls the survival of a stranger lost in the nearly impenetrable local marshes, and concludes that "not all emerge unscathed from their wanderings, and some never find their way home."

In the dim threatening light of such a recognition, grace shines the more consolingly. What immense relief one feels when the young Margie Block runs up against the kindness of God and understands that loving him will be enough.

Is it possible to be, at once, charmed, moved to affectionate laughter, moved to tears? It is.

I love this book.

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