• The Bossy Bookworm

Review of Festival Days by Jo Ann Beard

In Jo Ann Beard's lovely essays and short stories, she writes honestly and beautifully about moments large and small, from the weightiness of saying goodbye to loved ones for the last time to the comically complicated corralling of unruly ducks.

In the nine essays and short stories that make up Festival Days, the fantastic Jo Ann Beard explores tiny moments that make up a day and ultimately make up a life, as well as enormously important moments of life-and-death balance that can define everything.

Each of these is an essay except for two stories, "The Tomb of Wrestling" and "What You Seek Is Seeking You," although Beard says the stories hold truths as well.

Festival Days is not light reading: "Cheri" delves into the last days of a woman who is terminally ill with cancer; "Last Night" relates the final moments of the author's beloved dog's life; and the backbone of the collection is the title piece, "Festival Days," which centers around a trip through India that explores mortality and love.

But Beard's writing feels like long-form poetry in a way--evocative and anchored in wonderfully wrought detail--and despite the sometimes difficult subject matter, she injects humor and beauty into the disparate scenes and situations she relates.

“I’d always known I’d have to live without her someday; I just hadn’t known it would be tomorrow.”

Festival Days is lovely and sometimes surprising; it feels honest as Beard explores bitterness, confusion, petty thoughts, life-and-death issues, trivial concerns, and intense love and loss. It's also often wryly funny.

The last, longest, and titular essay, "Festival Days," is far longer than the others. It meanders as Beard is unmoored after heartbreak and betrayal, and her dear friend is dying. She reflects on various travels and other measures meant to distract and inspire or comfort—and the disrupted rhythm and skipping around seems to reflect her many fears and concerns.

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Beard is also the author of In Zanesville as well as a collection of autobiographical essays, The Boys of My Youth.

Her partner is Scott Spencer, the author of Endless Love and many other novels.