Book Review: A Million Fragile Bones (Fowler)

Connie May Fowler. A Million Fragile Bones. Tallahassee, Fl.: Twisted Road Publications, 2017. 320 pages. Softcover. $15.95.

Connie May Fowler’s environmental memoir A Million Fragile Bones does not promise to make you fall in love, and then break your heart—but it does both. Set on Alligator Point, a tiny sandbar on Florida’s northern Gulf coast, the memoir is a chronicle of Fowler’s life against the backdrop of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and its aftermath. Its opening chapters, however, exist in the time before the spill, as Fowler works through the effects of an abusive childhood and the loss of her father. She heals herself—or, more aptly, would insist that Alligator Point healed her—by engaging in a total immersion in the surrounding natural world. Her days are marked by life in and around her self-designated “shack” on the Point: by the tides, the weather, the migration patterns of Monarchs, the movement of sand and sea creatures.

This is a world of near-to unutterable beauty. But Fowler, a writer never fearful of the deep, here goes wide-armed at the edge, welcoming the diver’s plummet into detail. “The world glittered with critters on the wing,” she writes, “the light deepening into a meditative fugue, and my inner landscape shifted: a spry spiritual realignment, a faint recognition of something ancient regained. It was as if old waters long hidden became tidal and known.”

There are themes here, of course—about love, loss, family, shame, abuse, healing, reemergence, greed, warning and hope—and they are important. After you’ve fallen in love with Fowler’s Florida—and you won’t be able to help yourself, even knowing your history—it is still a surprise when, in the middle of the memoir, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explodes in the Gulf of Mexico. It is still a surprise when BP struggles to control the aftershock of an estimated 4.9 million gallons of oil spewing into the Gulf. Despite our futuristic stance from 2017, the disaster and its aftermath is astonishing. This is because it’s difficult to imagine that anything can destroy the world Fowler has illuminated.

Though it earns its unique designation as an “environmental memoir,” A Million Fragile Bones is just as full of people and animals—Fowler’s companions and friends— as it is of land, sea and sky. Fowler’s beloved dogs, those she rescued and who rescued her, fill her shack with joy, and pepper the memoir with laugh-out-loud humor, despite its serious concerns. Fowler’s husband, Bill, whom she meets and falls in love with during her time on the Point, gives her life there even more emotional heft: he is a steady, gifted partner, one Fowler seems to have earned after years of heartbreak and loss.

The devastation wreaked upon the environment after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, as with any disaster of this magnitude, was as difficult to grasp in 2010 as it is now. But by offering up the personal details of her world, Fowler gives readers an access to the destruction, and to her own grief and anger, which reverberates with intimacy. This can’t be easy. But as Fowler says, “Writing is an act of courage by people who know if they don’t tell their truths, their hearts will explode.”

A Million Fragile Bones is a marriage of truth-telling and story: it is a love letter to the natural world, and a grief-stricken wail at its destruction, as the book jacket says, “for the sake of corporate profits.” But it is her examination of the connection between humans and the natural world that keeps the book from sinking into sorrow. The composition Fowler creates from this connection—her exploration of our shared DNA— is nothing less than a love song of molecules. Because of this, her fury is righteous, and her pen is mighty.

Katherine Scott Crawford is an award-winning writer, newspaper columnist, and college English teacher. Author of the historical novel Keowee Valley, her work has appeared in literary journals and magazines, including South Loop Review, The Santa Fe Writer’s Project, and Wilderness House Literary Review. Crawford holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives in Western North Carolina with her husband and daughters.

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