All the Fierce Tethers by Lia Purpura

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The cover to All the Fierce Tethers by Lia PurpuraLouisville, Kentucky. Sarabande Books. 2019. 116 pages.

An eclectic and diverse collection of twenty essays, Lia Purpura’s All the Fierce Tethers excels in the interplay of its tripartite emphases: language, nature, and prose. Purpura plays with linguistics and conception. Through speculative word creation, she combines Greek and Latin roots to form new words for lengthy, thoughtful phrases, such as “aesthesioplegia” from aesthesio (sensation) and plegia (paralysis) for “the loss of relationship to singular objects due to an overabundance of them.” Dissecting metaphor and refuting irony, she examines how we verbalize and visualize thoughts. Concurrently, she draws the reader into the breathtakingly complex world of fire ants, eagles, moose, and opossums, personifying them and simplifying us. All the while, her writing shines through, from sweeping backdrop descriptions to precise depictions of specific details to judicious use of sparsity for emphasis.

Although these three elements pervade the collection, the essays cover a variety of topics in various writing styles. Not every essay will equally satisfy every reader, and one or two will likely come across as too abstract or too literal, depending on the reader’s taste, but there is just as certainly at least one essay each reader will love. “My Eagles” struck a deep chord of emotional resonance and intellectual stimulation, and the joy of such a collection comes in allowing all who open its pages to find a piece that speaks clearly to them.

Purpura often focuses on the existential, but she occasionally grounds the reader firmly in the everyday of contemporary America. This action seems reassuring at first, but she uses it to foreground violence and struggle, particularly that of her own Baltimore community, although it speaks to a much greater reality. She never suffocates the reader with screams of warning, however, but delivers a subtextual appeal to humanity to simply do better, whether in neighborhoods, the environment, or perception and appreciation.

Witty, friendly, and provocative, Purpura fosters a belief in the authenticity of interaction. In writing about her own engagement with the world, she interacts with her readers as well, encouraging them to do the same. All the Fierce Tethers succeeds in providing a defamiliarized lens for looking both outward and inward.

James Farner
University of Oklahoma

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