"The searing strokes of this book remind me of the infinitude inside every life." --Leslie Jamison
Paris Review Staff Pick, one of Chicago Tribune's 25 Hot Books of Summer, and one of The A.V. Club's 15 Most Anticipated Books of 2019
A stark, elegiac account of unexpected pleasures and the progress of seasons
Fifteen years ago, Kathryn Scanlan found a stranger’s five-year diary at an estate auction in a small town in Illinois. The owner of the diary was eighty-six years old when she began recording the details of her life in the small book, a gift from her daughter and son-in-law. The diary was falling apart—water-stained and illegible in places—but magnetic to Scanlan nonetheless.
After reading and rereading the diary, studying and dissecting it, for the next fifteen years she played with the sentences that caught her attention, cutting, editing, arranging, and rearranging them into the composition that became Aug 9—Fog (she chose the title from a note that was tucked into the diary). “Sure grand out,” the diarist writes. “That puzzle a humdinger,” she says, followed by, “A letter from Lloyd saying John died the 16th.” An entire state of mourning reveals itself in “2 canned hams.” The result of Scanlan’s collaging is an utterly compelling, deeply moving meditation on life and death.
In Aug 9—Fog, Scanlan’s spare, minimalist approach has a maximal emotional effect, remaining with the reader long after the book ends. It is an unclassifiable work from a visionary young writer and artist—a singular portrait of a life revealed by revision and restraint.
Scanlan's outstanding debut inventively adapts a real woman's diary. This slim volume's opening note states that 15 years ago at an estate auction, Scanlan found the diary of a woman who lived in small-town Illinois; the diary covered 1968 through 1972, and the woman was 86 years old when she started writing. Over the years, Scanlan "edited, arranged, and rearranged" the contents, the product of which is this volume. Each entry mostly consists of only two or three sentences per page, and the material is ostensibly normal. "D. washed my head. Fed all my flowers. No dogs in sight today" reads one entry; another reads: "Terrible windy everything loose is traveling." The diary-keeper has dozens of acquaintances she sees ("Ruth came thru operation. Hiller's house burned"; "Myra picked up 53 sparrows dead"), and fills these pages with activities ("That puzzle a humdinger"), movements ("D. out to cemetery, her head stone is being put up"; "Found nice teaspoon out in pasture"), and observations ("I weighed 120 had on blue & new shoes. My feet smelled some"). The book is a fascinating chronicle of Scanlan's obsession, but, more than that, it transforms a seemingly ordinary life into a profound and moving depiction of how humans can love and live. Scanlan's portrait of an everywoman feels entirely new.