9/20/15 REVIEW OF JOYCE RENWICK’S IN PRAISE OF WHAT PERSISTS “I kept finding the goat wandering in the dining room, or standing on the front room fireplace mantel just like she was wild on some mountainside… Pie Face was just an ordinary American mongrel milk goat, mostly black with white wedges under her eyes that gave her the name…[She] weighed about a hundred pounds and would chew or lick anything in sight that might contain minerals. She bit me every time I milked her so I’d gotten to expect it.”—from “The Goat” in the posthumous collection In Praise of What Persists.
Joyce Renwick died in a car accident in Iowa in August 1995, shortly after she’d edited a novel manuscript for me. I never met her, only spoke to her over the phone from DC, and didn’t learn of her death until years later when I tried to get in touch about another manuscript.
“A burned out nurse isn’t callous…A burned out nurse knows too much and too little at once. She isn’t unfeeling…Damn, the opposite is true. As time goes by she doesn’t feel less, she feels more.”—from the story “Crispy Critters.”
With a BA that covered both nursing and English, Renwick studied for a Masters in English at Middlebury College and paid her tuition for seven summers at the Bread Loaf Writing Conference by serving as the nurse on call twenty-four hours a day (reflected in the story, “The Man Who Loved Chekhov”). She received her MFA from the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop and buried her nursing shoes in her backyard.
Richard Bausch writes of their college friendship, he an obsessed young father worrying about his own health, Joyce a nurse eventually sharing her frights. He had felt surprised to learn that anything bothered “the kindly, and richly insightful person herself—the one who shows forth so powerfully on these pages.”—from his introduction, “Remembering Joyce.”
“Ken was a goofeyfooter who took the lefts facing shore, his back to the wave, his arm in the tube. [They] had surfed together every June since they first met at Cuatro Casas five years before, glad for each other’s company away from the brash young surfers at Trestles and Malibu who competed mercilessly for every wave, snaking out other surfers, dropping in without warning, every wave a battle of wills and egos…”—from “Cuatro Casas.”
Besides surfing in Baja, this collection of Renwick’s fiction includes other settings and topics as diverse and exotic as turtle hunting on a farmstead, the nursing nightshift in an emergency room, and an old seaman, living out his days in Savannah poverty, becoming the victim of a hate crime against the aged while mentally reliving life at sea: “It seemed, to my surprise, that the ocean was as flat as a lake during my first days at sea…”—from the title story, “In Praise of What Persists.”
And don’t forget the goat: “The goat was rocking the birdbath and singing at the top of her goat voice. Her ears perked up as if she had heard me and she began swaying even more lustily, with a gleam in her small black eyes that I recognized…The birdbath tipped over and shattered on the patio cement. Pie Face jumped off the debris and ran, complaining at the top of her rusty voice. She crashed through the trees, knocking a statue off its pedestal and then circled wildly through the courtyard, going up and down the maze of tree branches, butting tree trunks when they got in her way, veering around the rose bushes, trampling the mountain laurel. She ran through the vegetable garden, ripping up the pumpkin vines and crushing the ripening globes beneath her hooves.”