Confronted with her mother’s memory loss, a daughter undertakes a search for buried treasure in her now-vacant family home, aided by a team of archeologists. This first-person narrative produces unsettling discoveries about several Montreal personalities as revealed by the objects that survive them—a microscope and lantern slides, a worn recipe book, the obituary of a renowned black sheep in the family. In the end, the excavation of the narrator’s childhood home yields both less and more than she ever imagined.
In this particularly well-crafted memoir, author Sharon Kirsch shares her experience of exploration, healing and loss. Akin to an intricately detailed slide under a microscope, this suite of stories, in fact, a collection of newly discovered memories, is a familial jigsaw puzzle—a series of mysteries, reassembled by way of meticulous research and the astute observation of a writer in her prime.
In a dusty brown box that promised old photos, I found an array of chignon bows from the 1960s: one a filmy black mesh with a velvet heart, two muscular bows glittering gold and silver, a white bow with a leatherette finish, another a delicate bone like the points of a Siamese cat.
We’ve all, at times, been part of a hunt. In search of eggs at Easter, in a scavenging party, digging for that elusive boxed item in storage, or simply seeking the perfect gift. Yes, we’re hunter-gatherers by nature, but the aim of the quest needn’t be doubloons in sand with an X-marked map. At one time or other each of us has had to or chosen to search. At times for the tangible, at others for things undefined. Evasive, even. And so it is with lineage, history and lore.
Several decades ago, then, willingly, deliberately, I’d left my parents and the house behind. Now my mother and the house were leaving me. As I prepared to lose both, I cherished the familiar in them. I readied myself to live the rest of my life in a strange place.
The seeming simplicity in the natural order of things—transition, discovery, failings and death, remains simultaneously straightforward and mindbogglingly complex. Sharon Kirsch manages to consider and address all of this in The Smallest Objective, and still prompt tempting queries. Perhaps, like so much in life, the mystery, examination, unanswered questions, along with occasional ellipses, are what make each hunt worthwhile.
About the Author: Sharon Kirsch is a writer of fiction, narrative non-fiction and journalism with a particular interest in how individuals are transformed by experiences of the new and the unfamiliar. Her non-fiction book, What Species of Creatures, is a recommended title from Canada’s National History Society. A former Commonwealth Scholar, she was born and raised in Montreal and currently lives in Toronto.
- Title: The Smallest Objective
- Author: Sharon Kirsch
- Publisher: New Star Books, 2020
- ISBN: 9781554201556
- Pages: 272
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