By: Rebecca Beardsall
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Publication Date: October 10, 2023
Review Date: August 7, 2023
Rebecca Beardsall’s The Unfurling Frond: A Memoir of Belonging and Becoming is exceptionally thought-provoking and a memorable journey of self-definition and personal reflection.
The prologue to The Unfurling Frond, ‘Blank Slate/White Bag’ is the key that opens Ms. Beardsall’s journey into ‘defining herself’ over the many years ahead in her journey through life. She was in her twelfth-grade art class and the assignment presented was the ‘white bag project.' The students were each given a white bag with the task to "...illustrate a bag that would represent a product that said something about ourselves..." (pg. 3) Inspired later that evening by a Ralph Lauren ad in Seventeen Magazine, Ms. Beardsall is drawn not only to the simplicity, but the impact it made. It was an ad for perfume and the bottle simply had the name ‘Lauren’ on it. Suddenly, she was inspired to design an image depicting "... a blue, round-shaped bottle with a wave-like cap in dark blue. Water, ocean waves—the elements that sing to my soul..." While the premise of this account is foundational to the memoir about to unfold, this was a defining moment that, in time, would guide Ms. Beardsall to leave her birthplace in a small Mennonite community in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and "...wander and find places to hold me and become home, Aotearoa New Zealand, Bellingham, Washington..."
The story begins with Ms. Beardsall sharing the story around the tragic loss of her brother Dwayne. He was 26 years old and on March 13, 1992, Dwayne died from a horrific farming accident. He lost his life when he fell into the feed mixer after the evening milking and sustained multiple injuries to his neck, chest, and legs. Ms. Beardsall was nineteen when she lost her brother. He was supposed to be the best man in her wedding one day. Dwayne, in many respects, was her anchor that kept her tethered to Pennsylvania. As she eloquently puts it, her loss "...loosened the soil that bonded me to Pennsylvania but still holds Dwayne. It wasn’t a vision that caused me to venture; it was a life lost in an instant that spurred me to move on and into myself..." (pg. 14) This was her catalyst to not only go to whatever far reaches she needed to go to in an effort to seek and explore who she was, but maintain the hope that once she arrived, she would recognize herself. New Zealand is her eventual destination and where she finally meets her former on-line dating partner (Geoffrey) in the flesh and marries him.
It is difficult to pay proper respect and deliver a worthy critique to this author in two short paragraphs. Suffice it to say, Ms. Beardsall has done a stellar job of eliciting an instant connection with her audience immediately upon reading the first couple of pages. Ms. Beardsall extends her hand by way of beautiful prose and eloquent passages that are telltale signs of an author who is in command of her pen and has a clear vision of her audience. She drew raw emotion from me at the onset when sharing the epithet on her brother’s headstone: "...Vision to Venture are the words engraved on his headstone. They rest there in granite on the bottom right under: Dwayne E. Helm May 18, 1966, Mar. 13, 1992..." (pg. 13) Ms. Beardsall’s gloriously exposes who she is through emotions that range from heartfelt grief toward the loss of her brother to setting up the opening to many chapters in Section II with the whimsy of Lewis Carroll via select passages from his iconic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. There are also insightful thought challenges at the end of certain chapters that provoke moments of introspection. They are presented in either an obvious context (‘upright’) or a challenge to dig deeper (‘reversed’) in that the sentiment is worded similarly, yet quite different simply by how the words are assembled in the sentence. In other words, there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers. Rather, they are intentional pauses to take (and make) the time to digest the content and look at what has been offered in a different light. Simply put, this is a body of work like no other I have read! I am honored to have had the privilege to write this review. Write on, Ms. Beardsall! The world anxiously awaits your next book!
Quill says: The Unfurling Frond is a magnificent garden that produces an amazing bounty of beautiful insights!