A raw-edged memoir

 

Raw Edges: A Memoir
Phyllis Barber
280 pages, hardcover: $26.95.
University of Nevada Press, 2010.

All memoirs risk provoking the reader's question: What's so important about your life, anyway? Why should we bother to read a whole book about it? Nevada author Phyllis Barber tries to answer that question in her second autobiography, Raw Edges: "While this search may be a self-absorbed, even selfish task, I think it's also a dipping into the river of humanity where everyone bathes. … It's about what it's like to want to be above the human fray and to realize I'm not."

In 1995, Barber's first autobiography, How I Got Cultured: A Nevada Memoir, detailed her idiosyncratic childhood as a Mormon musician growing up in a rural outpost of the Silver State. That book ends with her departure for Brigham Young University, where she meets David Barber, who becomes her first husband, the father of their four sons, and the subject of a good chunk of Raw Edges.

The mature Phyllis encountered in this second memoir is pensive, often melancholy, searching for the spiritual solace that has eluded her despite her Latter-day Saints upbringing, though the church continues to reign over most of her life as a stay-at-home mother. But Barber yearns for a more fulfilling love, something her long marriage to David does not provide. This leads her to other lovers, a brief second marriage, and a long and psychologically devastating affair with a younger man who pawns her belongings to feed his drug habit.

Determined to forge a new, more independent life, Barber tests her endurance -- biking toward the East Coast, seeking Shamanic help in the Andes, and hiking high in the Wasatch and other mountain ranges.

In her prologue, Barber quotes St. Francis of Assisi: "Seek not to be understood but to understand." As the author of a fascinating novel about the building of the Hoover Dam, And the Desert Shall Blossom (1993), Barber might have chosen to explore the difficult emotional terrain of Raw Edges in fiction, but returned instead to the memoir. "I confess I'd like to be understood," she answers St. Francis, "if by no one else but myself."

High Country News Classifieds
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
    All positions available: Sales Representative, Accountant and Administrative Assistant. As part of our expansion program, our University is looking for part time work from home...
  • COMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Position Title: Communications Associate Director Location: Flexible within the Western U.S., Durango, CO preferred Position reports to: Senior Communications Director The Conservation Lands Foundation (CLF)...
  • HISTORIC HOTEL & CAFE
    For Sale, 600k, Centennial Wyoming, 6 suites plus 2 bed, 2 bath apartment. www.themountainviewhotel.com Make this your home or buy a turn key hotel [email protected]
  • MAJOR GIFTS OFFICER
    High Country News, an award-winning news organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Major Gifts Officer to join our...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • VICE PRESIDENT, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION
    Basic Summary: The Vice President for Landscape Conservation is based in the Washington, D.C., headquarters and oversees Defenders' work to promote landscape-scale wildlife conservation, focusing...
  • BRISTOL BAY PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Seeking a program director responsible for developing and implementing all aspects of the Alaska Chapter's priority strategy for conservation in the Bristol Bay region of...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The National Bighorn Sheep Center is looking for an Executive Director to take us forward into the new decade with continued strong leadership and vision:...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Powder Basin Watershed Council, based in Baker City, Oregon, seeks a new Executive Director with a passion for rural communities, water, and working lands....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition, based in Ely, Nevada is looking for a new executive director to replace the long-time executive director who is retiring at...
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • LOG HOME IN THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Beautiful hand built log home in the heart of the Gila Wilderness on five acres. Please email for PDF of pictures and a full description.
  • CARETAKER
    2.0 acre homestead needing year-round caretaker in NE Oregon. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.