In “One Headlight”, the realities of working class life in Alaska are the backdrop for the bond between a mother and her son.

A lighthouse: a memory

By Matt Caprioli. Presse Cirque, 2021. 222 pages. $ 18.

In the opening chapter of “One Headlight,” author Matt Caprioli recounts a heart-wrenching ride with his mother through the worst snowstorm of the year, in a swinging car without the passenger side window and a headlight. Divided between divorced parents, he traveled between California and Alaska a few times a year in his pre-teens. On this particular occasion, when he was 12 years old, his mother picked him up from Anchorage airport with his usual big show of emotion, then went through a deepening storm to the dilapidated house. which she shared with her own mother, on Lazy Mountain near Palmer. The fact that they survived seemed to them to be an act of God and proved, according to his mother, that “anything is possible”.

Much later in the book, in case readers miss the metaphor, the author explains that his title refers to their car, a Mustang given to his mother by his church, but also “to our life together: disjointed, loving. , dangerous, both illegal. This light has become a little hymn to our relationship. Both, he says, “led to our mutual and respective dreams … With one lighthouse, we made it.”

The mother pictured here, a former Marine, couldn’t be easy going. Although totally devoted to her son, she seems to have been unable to take care of herself in a practical way. Son Matt was the more mature and capable of the two – for example, using the money he had saved for college to pay him off the rent.

After its very promising opening, the book becomes less of an organized memoir and more of a collection of memories that the author has from moments shared with her mother and a treatment for her grief when she died of cancer in 2017 at the age 54. The rawness of these memories have their own power, but cathartic writing for a writer does not necessarily serve a reader who is less interested in the life of the particular writer than in the light that can shine through a lifetime. towards a more universal meaning. Some things, like anger at other family members, might be better saved for a private journal or therapy.

We wish Caprioli, certainly a capable writer, had taken the time to rework his memories and reactions into a coherent whole, with well-crafted scenes and a less random and repetitive structure, with more reflection on his life and that of his family. Memories certainly do not need to be chronological, but the chapters that follow one another through different periods make it difficult to follow the author’s trajectory as he has gone from child to man. is today. Some facts that may be useful to know early on are only revealed in later chapters, while other less essential information is repeated more than once.

Caprioli, who now lives in New York City and teaches in the English department at Lehman College, may be familiar to readers in Alaska thanks to the many primarily art-related articles he wrote for the 2012 Anchorage Press. in 2015. He attended Anchorage schools as a teenager and eventually graduated from the University of Alaska Anchorage. Her memories of cafes, local businesses, and school events will resonate with Alaskan readers, and her portrayals of the working class and Alaskan poverty level counterbalance the usual tropes of Alaska as a nature. sublime savage.

A key part of Caprioli’s story has to do with her gender identity. He writes: “When I was 13, I was like ‘I’m gay’ out loud in the shower. I was trying it for form, suspecting it had been since I was eight, and some memories of four and five… The world closed in on me, and I sat under the water current. I cried inconsolably. Elsewhere, we learn that his father, an LA cop, wanted him to be “tough” and “manly” and criticized everything he loved and was. Only his mother never judged him and always supported him. For a while, in California and Alaska, he practiced figure skating with the encouragement of his mother. He was apparently very good at it, even winning competitions, until he realized that figure skating was considered “gay”. At 12, he preferred to leave what he loved the most rather than pass for homosexual.

The identity thread of Caprioli’s story is much thinner than that of her relationship with her mother. We learn little about life with his homophobic father until the end of the book, when the author accuses him of “toxic masculinity”. Caprioli also states, without much detail or thought, that he for a time became a sex worker in New York City. He may save this material for another book. We can hope so, and that such a book will open readers to a better understanding of our human lives.

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