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Elemental: A Collection of Michigan Creative Nonfiction comes to us from twenty-three of Michigan's most well-known essayists. A celebration of the elements, this collection is both the storm and the shelter. In her introduction, editor Anne-Marie Oomen recalls the "ritual dousing" of her storytelling group's bonfire: "wind, earth, fire, water-all of it simultaneous in that one gesture. . . . In that moment we are bound together with these elements and with this place, the circle around the fire on the shores of a Great Lake closes, complete."
The essays approach Michigan at the atomic level. This is a place where weather patterns and ecology matter. Farmers, miners, shippers, and loggers have built (or lost) their livelihood on Michigan's nature-what could and could not be made out of our elements. From freshwater lakes that have shaped the ground beneath our feet to the industrial ebb and flow of iron ore and wind power-ours is a state of survival and transformation. In the first section of the book, "Earth," Jerry Dennis remembers working construction in northern Michigan. "Water" includes a piece from Jessica Mesman, who writes of the appearance of snow in different iterations throughout her life. The section "Wind" houses essays about the ungraspable nature of death from Toi Dericotte and Keith Taylor. "Fire" includes a piece by Mardi Jo Link, who recollects the unfortunate series of circumstances surrounding one of her family members.
Elemental's strength lies in its ability to learn from the past in the hope of defining a wiser future. A lot of literature can make this claim, but not all of it comes together so organically. Fans of nonfiction that reads as beautifully as fiction will love this collection.