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Made Holy: Essays

Lyrically driven, vivid, fragmented prose form the pulse of this moving debut collection on the American family. Entwined by the narratives of generations, Made Holy tells the story of love, loss, and addiction. Emily Arnason Casey employs the lyric imagination to probe memory and the ever-shifting lens of time as she seeks to make sense of the disease that haunts her maternal family tree and the alchemy of loss and longing.

The lakes of her childhood in Minnesota form the interior landscape of this book, a kind of watery nostalgia for something just beyond her reach:

“I know this feeling,” she writes. “We travel along the surface of time, and then suddenly the layers give way, and we are in another year, another body, another place.”

Casey’s willingness to honestly examine the past and present with contemplative lyricism offers fresh perspective and new understanding. In electric moments that are utterly relatable, she weaves a tale of love and commitment to the truth of her experience despite the incredible desire to keep alive a legacy of secrets. Like the mullein plant she invokes in the final essay, these essays form a kind of “guardian to the lost.”

Made Holy consists of 20 essays written in lyric meditation, as well as traditional personal narrative, that examine the relationship of memory and the passage of time, childhood and the late coming of age of a young woman and writer whose family history of alcoholism and loss continue to fuel her understanding of what it means to be human and “made holy.” Each essay navigates the geography of memory, family history, disease, or motherhood by way of an investigation into her understanding of loss and longing. Ultimately coming to accept that the landscape of her imagination is made of her childhood, and nostalgia and desire are the twin forces provoking her exploration of the world, she is pulled between the physical worlds of Northern Minnesota and Vermont, motherhood and her work as a writer, her desire for rebellion and her struggle with alcoholism in both her own life and the lives of those she loves.


from “Self Portrait”

“Nothing bad ever happened to me, I say, again and again, though some days I’m not sure. I was born like this—jittery, sensitive, anxious, and longing for relief—though I never knew I needed relief until relief came.

I became pretty and then angry and what do women do with their anger? Where does a woman put her rage?”


from “The Blue Room”

“I read Bill Holm’s Playing the Black Piano, a book of poems my mother sent me. He writes about the sea in his poem “The Sea Eats What It Pleases.”

But the sea does not hate you, or imagine

That you have wounded it with your avarice.


Only humans, so newly risen from fish,

Imagine drowning each other for reasons.

It is not the rhythm of Holm that speaks to me, though it keeps me and holds me to it, but the idea that cannot be explained, only sensed in this question: Why do we imagine that the pain we inflict on each other has meaning?

I move through entire days where it is enough just to stay sober. At the end of winter, I go down to the lake and spend hours photographing rolling waves of ice. Below them the lake thaws, yet the surface is still hinged with enormous plates of ice that won’t let the underwater out. With force, the water churns beneath the ice, moves the ice-crested surface in waves that roll and hurl against the cement walls of the shore, breaking down little by little. “


from “Reverence Song”

“Summer. We used to covet night. My not-yet-husband and I. Sitting at outdoor café tables in town, sipping whiskey on ice or cold pints of beer, listening to country bands or acoustic guitars strummed by young men in love. We got drunk and he drove us to the beach, it was the only place I wanted. Not home, no, never home. I didn’t want the night to end.

Swimming, the moon hung amid the bramble of clouds. Its dappled light fell where the water shoaled, and we plunged in and floated face up, bodies freed. Sometimes a lone sailboat drifted at the edge of our swimming cove, and I thought of all the places I wanted to go, and other times we lost each other in the shadow of trees or the darkness of a new moon night but never for long. In the sunlight, our love felt fragile, but not there in the dark, our bodies wet and kissing. ”