The Last Good Obsession: Thoughts on Finding Life in Fiction is a collection of hybrid essays that get personal about reading. Open to possibilities and insights, Sandra Swinburne settles into some of her favorite books to savor the way fictional characters spark her imagination and raise the past. She wonders over too-real manifestations of her own vulnerable self in women named Oedipa or Joanna or Amy, and she prods family and friends for answers when she finds them “creeping about between paper covers.” Under a thin lens of literary criticism, memoir accumulates, book by book and essay by essay, to reveal a lived life.
I lay nearly motionless on a four-poster bed in a Savannah hotel. My husband and I had just returned from a restaurant made famous on the Cooking Channel where we’d shared mounds of corn bread and biscuits, bacon-wrapped shrimp, and chicken potpie. Add a couple glasses of wine and split a slice of pecan pie and my stomach hurt more than it had in a long time. I silently vowed that I would never again surrender so completely to temptation, knowing that my word was good for a day or two at best. On my back and moving only one finger, I flicked a page of Milan Kundera’s novel Identity. “‘Men don’t turn to look at me anymore,’” Chantal laments. Perhaps it was just bad timing to read that, feeling as I did while my husband concentrated on the Syracuse basketball game that blared from the television and played on—even after I barked at him to turn the volume down. Feeling sorry for myself, I curled inward where I could sink into a meditation on reality and time and my own aging because “‘men don’t turn to look at me anymore’” either.
“Swinburne not only lives in fiction, she makes a sweet nonfiction of showing us the way that happens.”
—from Judith Kitchen’s Introduction
Sandra Swinburne was a neonatal intensive care nurse before becoming a stay-at-home mother of four now grown children. She returned to college to study literature when she turned fifty—taking candy to class as a ploy to make young students like her. Only one semester in, she fell head over heels for Faulkner and began measuring all things literary with her eyes full of him. She published a critical essay based on her master’s degree research, Lilith in Mississippi: Reading Mythic Desire in If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem, in Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Cultures. Her creative/critical essay, Essay, Dresses, and Fish, written in response to John McPhee’s The Founding Fish, appears in Short Takes: Brief Encounters with Contemporary Nonfiction, Ed. Judith Kitchen. The Last Good Obsession is Swinburne’s first book, an outgrowth of her MFA thesis submitted to Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University in 2008. She lives with her husband in Pittsford, New York where she bikes on the Erie Canal path, remembering childhood days on a blue Schwinn in New York’s Southern Tier.
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