Pink Harvest prods the borders of emotional maturity; it is the book I wish I could have read when I was fourteen, underlining its succession of memorable lines the way I did Rilke’s Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, hoping to use language to navigate the treacherous world of adult innuendo.
Here the distinctions between memoir and fiction are very fine. In almost every piece, Mirosevich polishes the stones of human experience in ways that seem more like fiction than autobiography. Nowhere do we get; I did this! Isn’t my life swell! Or: This tragedy befell me! Look upon my sorrows and take heed! These can be tedious. Instead, the life, or the parts of a life, that Mirosevich presents are like a clump of crystals in their matrix—each story can be turned over in your hands, moved to catch the light in different ways.
The collection opens with a piece in the third person, in which an urgent care nurse, presumably white, tends to a homeless man of color who has a hole in his side. A doctor has taken out a section of infected lung along with a section of ribs, so that through the hole, the man’s heart is visible. The nurse invites other medical personnel over to look and then wonders if
[m]aybe each person saw something different, depending on what his or her own heart held. If your heart was full of joy you saw reflected delight. If your heart was full of bitterness, reflected enmity. Maybe the doctor saw a heart wrapped in thorns and maybe the med tech a heart wrapped in lavender ribbon. Maybe some looked in as you might look in the window of an Easter egg and saw a little scene—a house by a lake, and swans or lily pads—and maybe others saw nothing, nothing at all.
While most of the book is in first person, this story sets up all that follows. Mirosevich has a flair, an instinct, for taking a metaphor all the way. Sometimes she goes over the top, overplaying her hand, because this business of wringing meaning from both quotidian and unique moments is risky. But most of the time she’s as precise as a surgeon in laying bare the secrets of connection. We look in the mirror of her prose and affirm: Yes, this is what that experience meant even if we never had an experience like hers.
But sometimes we have. I found myself meditating for days on the second piece, “The Whole Story,” about the relationship between two lesbian couples—a complicated story about how a friendship sputters out and rekindles. Yes, I thought, I’ve had relationships like that—and who writes about them? Where is the body of work that charts friendships, the ways that couples decide each person like the three others enough to have dinner, rent a cabin, shared birthdays, until some series of slights causes them to stop calling? What a relief this story is. It opens up a field; it moves into what should be familiar territory, and yes I can’t remember anything like it. These friends aren’t amazon warriors or drama queens. They’re not trying to steal each other’s partners or unmask a murderer. They are ironic, wary, generous, smart women in middle age, examining memory, time, the elements that compose a life.
This story is also about relationships to images, as is much of the book. In “The Whole Story,” the images come from the history of art—Vincent van Gogh, Francis Bacon—but later the images are of shrimp, the sea, a mother’s hands, postcards in Croatia.
It’s with the title story, “Pink Harvest,” that Mirosevich moves to her birth family, the fisherfolk. She reconstructs her mother’s inner life as her father announces they will start harvesting shrimp instead of salmon. One of the recurring themes is an interlacing of natural phenomena with speculative emotion. Here Mirosevich’s mother “turns back to the cutting board, tries to think: how the color of the sky can influence the water; how the bottom of the ocean can influence the sky,” as she reflects on the old adage, “red sky at morning, sailor take warning; red sky at night, sailor’s delight.” This is a finely wrought moment when a woman has to accept the weather of her marriage, trying to decide what fate lies in the sky her husband has brought her.
It’s no surprise that Mirosevich, coming from coastal people, relies on boats as a trope, sometimes brilliantly. Her last piece, “The Raft,” encompasses all the longing one might experience at death. It is dying as holding on to, then casting off, all relationships in an extended metaphor that takes an ordinary image—a life raft—and transforms it. I don’t want to spoil it, since the story should be swallowed whole, a wholeness that as you read, answer s your questions, and then makes you say, hey, wait a minute, how can she know this? She’s not on her deathbed. And yet, it is so perfectly wrought—the specificity of the relationship between sisters, for instance, and the recognition that one must push even one’s sister overboard---that you have no doubt that yes, death is exactly as Mirosevich describes.