Made Holy: Essays

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Reviews

A starred review from Forward Reviews

Seven Days Quick Lit Review

Voices On Addiction: A Conversation With Emily Arnason Casey

Praise for Made Holy

Made Holy satisfies a reader’s longing, quenches a thirst for beauty won from suffering, or peace from travail. Here is Emily Arnason Casey’s life, or parts of it, but more, here is her art made of words that refer to and call back and make sense of her life, which is a life, like all lives, rife with struggle and disappointment and lasting memories of pain, all of which she explores with a gentle nostalgia and unrestrained love. The essays here ultimately bring light and goodness, hope and joy, all synonyms for the holiness we all seek.

Patrick Madden, author of Sublime Physick & Quotidiana

The essays in Emily Arnason Casey’s Made Holy are ripe with imagery, lyricism, and honest reflection. Traversing the landscape of memory, her childhood in Minnesota, her family’s history of illness and addiction, her journey into adulthood and motherhood, Casey leads readers into the blue rooms of loss and the open spaces of the natural world around her. Individually these essays contain their own light and shadow, as a collection, they coalesce as eulogy, an homage to the complexities of time, memory, and the nature of human experience. Casey’s prose is rich with nuance and wonder and reveals her rare ability to both interrogate and nurture longing. This book is as much a prayer for the fractured as it is a meditation on the sacred.

Jericho Parms, author of Lost Wax

The essays in Emily Arneson Casey’s MADE HOLY read like so many intimate conversations. Or confessions. Or exultations. Whether the subject is loss, addiction, regret, or hope, she is unflinching and wise and gentle. I’ll reread this book over and over in the same way and for the same reasons I read Mary Oliver and Marilyn Robinson.

Peter Geye, author of WINTERING

As an essay collection, Emily Arnason Casey’s new book succeeds on
every level. Her writing is evocative, relatable, haunting and magical. Using
descriptive prose that stimulates your every sense, the essays transport
you to particular places in time: the lake cabin of her childhood; her
grandparents’ house in Minnesota, “beautiful to [her as one] who grew up
in apartments and a walkout basement until the age of fourteen;” the cold
blue room of her college apartment; the living room of a stranger as a naive
teenager. The stories are quintessentially of the American experience and
Casey employs memories like guides to the past, remarkably shifting from
being wholly present in the space of the memory to consciously watching
from her future self. The essays that tackle addiction are searing and honest,
and the collection is worth reading for those insights alone, but the family
recollections, of summers past and lessons learned from parents, as well as
her experiences as a woman in this society, are as rich as any I have read.

— Jenny Lyons of The Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury, reviewed in the Addison Independent, September 26, 2019


     

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.”

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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.

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Burnt Shanty Lake