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Excerpt from Riverine by Angela Palm, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Memoir from Anywhere but Here

by Angela Palm

Riverine by Angela Palm X
Riverine by Angela Palm
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2016, 224 pages
    Aug 2016, 224 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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Print Excerpt


Every map is a fiction.
— D. J. Waldie

I used to spend hours poring over the state road map, perplexed by the way towns and cities were annotated. Here was a small pink dot called Hebron, its name typed neatly in a little sans serif font. I moved my finger across light yellow paper, then across a wavy blue line until it touched the next pink dot. This one was called DeMotte. This was where I lived. In the pink dot called DeMotte in the map of Indiana. But our address was Hebron, Indiana, and not DeMotte, Indiana. Knowing little of governance and less of mapping, I rested my eyes curiously on the yellow paper—what was between the two pink-dot towns? A vast patch of nothing? How could we reside in both towns, yet seemingly in neither at the same time? Where did one town start and the other end? Was there an unnamed part between the two that was up for grabs? I wanted to conquer that yellow land and write myself all over it: this part, this swath of land right here, belongs to a girl.

I obsessed about this empty space. I turned it round and round in my head, mulling over its possibility. At school, I was learning about the laws of physics—a primary introduction to an invisible governance that was as old as time. I became aware of moving forward in time, bound by the laws of the universe. This, too, I obsessed about. It changed the way I saw everything around me, including Corey, the boy next door whose bedroom window faced mine. He moved mechanically, rhythmically, through time and space. At eight years old, I had imagined mapping myself onto his skin, clinging to the idea of a future between me and my eleven-year-old friend that did not exist. I followed him closer than his own shadow. Little girl, second skin. He did not mind.

The yellow space on the map could be an isolated system, I thought, enclosed and separate with a nuclear interior—like a thermodynamic system, where all the energy is contained and nothing gets out. I was well acquainted with the sensation of exterior isolation and interior energy, of the power in that juxtaposition. We lived many miles away from most of the kids I went to school with in DeMotte. I lacked a true set of friends, our home far from the subdivisions where kids from school played together. Instead, I took to books and art, to sketching still life pictures with charcoal and singing loudly in the rain. Though I watched Corey in his window as if he were a television show, he was a real friend, materializing beyond the frame as hands that gripped mine and swung me in circles, as feet to kick a ball to, as ears to listen to me talk and sing. As proof that we existed beyond our windows. But mostly, solitary pursuits replaced social ones and a cacophony of ideas swirled inside me, while DeMotte's social hubbub remained distant and encamped within a town I didn't feel much a part of. Further isolation stemmed from the fact that the town center, several miles from where our houses were located, was comprised of the affluent Dutch, who had settled and built homes, farms, and churches there many decades earlier. The DeMotte Dutch were a close-knit bunch: tall and blond with smart little noses, nearly interchangeable last names, and conservative values and politics. In this town, you were either Dutch or you weren't. Other backgrounds weren't given attention.

Most of the kids we lived near were poorer than us. Some of them were the kind of poor that amounted to dirty hands, hunger, unwashed and ill-fitting clothes, and no coats at the school bus stop in the thick of winter. Many were the kind of kids who either bullied or were bullied by others. My brother, Marcus, and I were well fed and clean clothed. While our food wasn't fancy, it was abundant. A measurable amount of parental love was available to us. Our clothes were from the clearance racks at Montgomery Ward, which my mother felt was an extravagance—it was more than she'd had, and certainly more than my father had had. And it wasn't much to complain about. the clothes were usually one season removed from fashionable, but they were new and our very own. Despite these differences, all of us living by the river were the kind of kids who sometimes had money for the ice cream truck and sometimes did not. We were the kind of kids who sometimes looked on, frozen in our tracks as the truck rolled by, a plea hanging between us as a slowed-down, creaking version of "Home on the Range" cut through the air.

Excerpted from Riverine by Angela Palm. Copyright © 2016 by Angela Palm. Excerpted by permission of Graywolf Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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