Many of us take a meandering path through life, unsure of the next step or even the goal. Author Philip Connors has honestly exposed with us his own life’s twisty trail. In his memoir All The Wrong Places: A Life Lost and Found, Connors has chronicled a series of experiences focusing on pivotal stages in his life. Though each chapter centers upon a different aspect, the common thread throughout is his brother’s death, and the burden of culpability he must finally address.
Connors worked in journalism, first as an intern for The Nation, then the copy desk of the Wall Street Journal. He relays his story through that journalistic lens - with writing that is eloquent, thoughtful, direct and emotional, yet matter-of-fact. So we read of the tumult and anxiety he experiences, but don’t become entrenched in the sentiment. It’s a work of sensitive, authentic and articulate writing that resonated with me. In describing his move to the Gila wilderness in New Mexico late in the book he writes, “The place tore me down and remade me; its indifference to my cares and sorrows was magisterial and, in unexpected ways, comforting. I had believed that the streets of New York were the pinnacle of indifference to the individual human life and I had been mistaken.”
All The Wrong Places begins with Connors reconnecting with his brother after years apart and discovering things about each other while he visits New Mexico from New York. We revisit with him his childhood on a farm in Minnesota, then follow his path from college to New York, where he tries to fit in with the gritty city life. Here he recounts such personal details as frequent calls to a sex line (“the make-believe province of telephonic copulation”) and getting attacked on the way to the subway; of the day of 9/11 and working for a publication that represents everything counter to his personal beliefs. The varied subjects are brought together for good reason - getting to know our author and protagonist; how he has arrived at his next stage in life, his subsequent journey and how it’s all pulled together by his nagging guilt and the grief over his brother’s death.
Connors lets us into his life with all its emotional shortcomings and quest for redemption. In the end we see Connors leave the city to become a fire lookout in New Mexico, a solitary life and stark contrast from the din of New York. We also witness him in search of the truth surrounding his brother’s death, giving reverence to this lost soul and with it his own, perhaps. As an observer, we can only hope that Connor has found peace, not just in his surroundings, but within. And that he grants us another book very soon.
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
Vickie’s rating: 5 stars