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Rough Beauty: Forty Seasons of Mountain Living

Review

Rough Beauty: Forty Seasons of Mountain Living

I’m not a memoir person; I wouldn’t call myself a nonfiction person in general. I have a proclivity for the fantastical, for stories about dragons and starships and people blasting fireballs from their palms. What drew me to Karen Auvinen’s ROUGH BEAUTY: Forty Seasons of Mountain Living, then, was not interest in a change of pace from my usual reading fare. You see, Auvinen is a writer, like me. And so I selfishly figured that in reading her memoir --- the first I’ve read since Jeannette Walls’ THE GLASS CASTLE at my ex’s suggestion a few years ago --- I’d find writing advice. I found none, because that’s not the kind of book this is. It’s something far richer, and I have zero regrets in my choice to pick it up, misaligned though I was.

Similar to THE GLASS CASTLE in its opening chapters, it isn’t long before ROUGH BEAUTY comes into its own, Auvinen proving how unique of a writer --- and person --- she is. The title is, without an iota of a doubt, the perfect way to describe her writing: gorgeously and carefully rendered, yet brimming with a sort of wildness that can’t be entirely tamed. This two-sidedness pervades everything in Auvinen’s life: her father, at once charming and volatile; the Colorado mountain setting, as awe-inspiring as it is perilous; her connections with others, often tense but always essential. Her words are laced with wisdom --- not the preachy kind, thankfully, but the hard-won kind that prompts you to reconsider your own surroundings as Auvinen considers hers.

"What never lost its 'oomph,' and what was far and away the best part of ROUGH BEAUTY, was Auvinen’s bond with her dog, Elvis.... Don’t be surprised if you leave the book jealous of the nearly mother-son relationship he and Auvinen share."

Of course, I wasn’t captivated by everything Auvinen had to say, even though it was consistently well said. Some sections dragged on a little too long for my taste; whether or not that has to do with me not being accustomed to memoirs, I cannot say. For the most part, the way she splits things up keeps the book from becoming monotonous, but I can’t help but feel that Auvinen never escapes a certain repetitiveness. The cycle of seasons is integral to her story, so you could say that the repetitions serve a thematic purpose --- you could call them motifs, even. There aren’t many, but every time I read about another bear coming up to her cabin, for instance, it lost its “oomph” for me.

What never lost its “oomph,” and what was far and away the best part of ROUGH BEAUTY, was Auvinen’s bond with her dog, Elvis. More than any person in her life, Elvis is the tether that keeps her grounded, a constant reminder to always look at life with fresh eyes, and a fierce friend. He is easily among the most well-written animal companions in literature, imbued with a humanity that vibrates off the page. Don’t be surprised if you leave the book jealous of the nearly mother-son relationship he and Auvinen share. As she herself says, “The love of a dog is no small thing.” I’ve never had a dog, so I would not have agreed before reading her account of such a companionship, but her love for Elvis spun my perception around 180 degrees.

With my self-centered entry into the world of ROUGH BEAUTY in mind, I have only one last thing to say: do not go into this book with expectations of any kind. Regardless of who you are or where you came from, regardless of whether you internalize the insight on hand or not, Auvinen is a woman who will hold your attention with the many, many things she has to say. She won’t force you to nod your head in agreement with her, but she’ll direct your gaze to places you may not have looked before. As a woman who has lived in nature for so long, it’s an understatement to call Auvinen an astute observer. She is someone worth listening to, and, when you’re done listening, someone you’ll thank for causing you to notice what you may not have noticed before.

Reviewed by Benny Regalbuto on June 15, 2018

Rough Beauty: Forty Seasons of Mountain Living
by Karen Auvinen

  • Publication Date: June 5, 2018
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • ISBN-10: 1501152289
  • ISBN-13: 9781501152283