Books, music, art, theater, film, and dance

Off-White: A Memoir , By Laurie Gunst '73, '74G
In the Shadows of the Sun By Alexander Parsons

Joe Lapchick '61G
John Ernest
Randall Peffer '73G
Sharon L. Dean '65, '69G and Victoria Brehm
Clifford J. Moody '58
Judy Pancoast '77G
Anita Brown '84
Bob Lord '98
Todd Jones '92 and Steve Roy '01
Also of Note...
Olive Richards Tardiff '37
Ruth J. Sample
Jennifer Boettcher '87 and Leonard Gaines

Off-White: A Memoir
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Laurie Gunst '73, '74G was born in 1949 into a prominent Jewish family in Richmond, Va., and into a life full of contradiction and conflict. Her father parlayed his inheritance into a business manufacturing products for hunting dogs. Gunst's mother was a passionate liberal who fought vociferously against the segregation policies of the time, and with her husband about their many political differences. Gunst relates a dinnertime squabble in which her mother, who has just finished reading Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, takes her husband to task for using pesticides in his dog products. Gunst's uncle, her father's business partner, sarcastically notes that Gunst's mother is enjoying her meal while biting the hand that feeds her.

The person Gunst went to for comfort and shelter from family storms was Rhoda Lloyd, a descendant of slaves who cared for four generations of Gunst's family. Much of this memoir is in homage to Lloyd, for "the ties that bound me to Rhoda," Gunst asserts, "were indeed not entirely of this world." Family legend has it that Lloyd "worked roots" on Gunst when she was a baby, binding them together for life and beyond; Gunst believes the legend, and is visited by Lloyd's spirit several times throughout the book.

Because her black nanny felt most like family and because her Jewishness further separated her from the surrounding Episcopalian culture, Gunst grows up not quite knowing where she fits and develops what she calls an "off-white sensibility." The flea-collar heiress embarks on a far-ranging intellectual and emotional journey, taking the long way back to the South via UNH, Harvard and Jamaica; along the way, she gets married a couple of times, develops a drug habit, and writes a book about Jamaican gangs in the United States.

The most important research she conducts, though, is genealogical—and in delving into both her family's and Lloyd's ancestry, she learns some shocking things that deepen the contradictions she has inherited. "Some of our roads lead to sanctuary, and some to shame. They are so often the same road," she writes. And we learn that some of the most absorbing and haunting mysteries may lie in our own past, if we only have the courage to confront them.

In the Shadows of the Sun
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American novels about the Second World War fit roughly into two categories: realistic (Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead) and absurdist (Joseph Heller's Catch-22). UNH assistant professor of English Alexander Parsons' haunting and moving second novel, about the destruction of a New Mexican family at the dawn of the nuclear age, is decidedly realistic. But the war scenes are tempered by Parsons' luminous descriptions of landscape—both the desert badlands of New Mexico and the fetid jungle of the Philippines—and the latter are ultimately what remain in the reader's mind.

Parsons' narrative shifts between two battle-fields: the Strickland family ranch that brothers Baylis and Ross are fighting to keep from the government's nuclear testing; and the Philippines, where Ross's 18-year-old son, Jack, is being held as a prisoner of war.

In New Mexico, eviction from the ranch causes rifts in the family, and the brothers' wives and daughters are drawn to a nearby town. Meanwhile, Jack is enduring a different hell as one of the 70,000 men who were forced on the Bataan Death March: "...there was no reading what surrounded him—no orderly progression of victory and defeat, no high-minded goal. There was only the motion of one moment to the next and the demands of survival."

The Stricklands are mistakenly sent word that Jack has been killed, and the family disintegrates as the government moves machinery onto their property. But a world away, Jack is only half-dead, and his memories of the ranch are all that keep him moving. The narrative tension of whether Jack will ever make it back compels the reader to march on, too, with the bitter knowledge that the home Jack so longs for no longer exists.

"One incandescent dusky world is all there is," reads the epigraph from Edward Hirsch, but the radiance of Parsons' prose creates another, light-filled world in the mind of his reader.

Anne Downey '95G, a freelance writer who lives in Eliot, Maine, received her Ph.D. in English from UNH.