By Leah Blain, Observer contributor
American author, cultural critic, and public speaker Fran Lebowitz gave her opinion on autobiographical writing: “Your life would not make a good book. Don’t even try.”
But she might change her mind if she read Mary Theresa Kelly’s book, On Mockingbird Hill, which is captivating even at the short haunting words of dedication: “With gratitude for friendships, those that endure and those in the past.” It is a story of love and friendships that are torn asunder one summer as a series of betrayals and violence transform a tight-knit group of friends.
The story begins when she meets Daniel, a handsome potter and a fire lookout observer: “The night in November, Daniel and I danced side by side at a house party in Calgary, a gathering where everyone had some connection to the natural foods industry and herbal medicine, or had at least survived a liver cleanse, or two days of fasting on maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and lemon juice.”
Kelly’s ability to poke fun at the drudgery of her everyday life in the health food world is a theme woven through the book. She poignantly portrays how life’s difficulties such as maxed out credit cards, and lack of fulfillment in a job can wreck havoc on relationships.
“That’s what I love about creative non-fiction. The reader does feel like they’re going inside someone’s life. It’s sharing what’s human, what we’ve lived through,” says Kelly in a phone interview from her home in Vernon.
On Mockingbird Hill doesn’t really read like an autobiography. It’s the story of a circle of friends that was carefully researched.
“I have always kept journals and I have an incredible memory,” says Kelly, “but I interviewed people extensively, that was critical. I couldn’t have done it any other way.”
Her description of the fire lookout job is wonderfully and simply done, never detracting from the narrative but enough to paint the picture.
“It was such an enjoyable time in my life. It is still very vivid for all of us, and I remember it fondly even though we went through an unfortunate series of events.”
Kelly ends up in the North Shuswap for a time thanks to the acquaintance of a fellow potter and the north shore’s lack of building inspections.
“We wanted to build unconventional structures without all those regulations plaguing us,” says Kelly. Her description of the lifestyle she expected and what it actually was, is very entertaining. (They were highly encouraged to grow marijuana if they wanted to ‘fit in’).
As much as Kelly enjoyed that time in her life, she can look back and see what she might have done differently, and she gives that advice to others.
“Young women make decisions about life choices by deferring to the relationship first and that’s the guiding motif for our choices. I spent years running up and down the mountain to maintain a relationship and when things started falling apart..I had to look at my own talents and abilities. I had put them on hold and I think young women have a tendency to do that.”
Mary Kelly will have a book launch at the Salmon Arm library, 2 pm on Saturday, December 9. Books will be available for sale.