Book Review- Thirty Miles to Rosebud by Barbara Henning

By Jo Anne Fordham

Overlapping physicalities – of region, maternity, self, landscape, and consanguinity – sift luminously, but pointedly through the descriptions of yoga-practitioner Katie’s breathtaking stake-out of her upper peninsula Michigan home (the UP) after an adult life planted squarely in New York City’s East Village. Katie, the photographer protagonist of Barbara Henning’s latest work, Thirty Miles to Rosebud, has cut all ties with her second home by leaving a rent-stabilized apartment situated in the work primarily for taking leave – of lovers, of the womb, of the city – to deliver a shoebox to the best friend who preceded her to New York, then vanished.

The book itself is just such a point of departure: ostensibly set in the 70’s as a young woman works her way into, sizes up, and grows through the world as we may live it, the sustained sense of time and ricochet between presences for those who never quite inhabit any agreeably defined concept of place comprises the real story here. Katie’s rurality is sure-footed, and her urbanity unforced, albeit heavily predicated on a Michigan few have bothered to imagine, much less describe.

The story she tracks is made of smoke, water, and snow, slips and falls, pavement and squish, and the loose threads that unceasingly bind the people who matter to us when time stops. Henning’s text makes loops through moments in Detroit and New York City, Southeast and South Asia, Wisconsin on into the U.S. Southwest, and the bodies and conversations of men and women in each loop. Her snapshot prose, however, best articulates that which cannot be captured by the drive-through diversion, or lingering hope and division, which may even bring it to life, and which we all know far too well unless we are very young Katie – the beauty and fragility of experience, the web of imaginary ties that may turn out, in fact, to be the only ones we know we can count on, and the fact that our shapes coexist in something as mild and ephemeral as the desire that a child be born safely, the slight overlap of a tooth.

Barbara Henning’s Blog:

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