Stephanie Sauer’s Almonds are Members of the Peach Family (Noemi Press, 2019) is a masterful multimedia project that weaves together prose and craftsmanship, bringing light to buried historical narratives. While this is her second traditional prose book, Sauer also has multiple art books that demonstrate her experience with a wide variety of mediums, such as quilting, archiving other’s works, and stitching, specifically of clothing. Her writing is skillful, untangling her family’s history, but it merely accompanies the quilt she crafts throughout the book, the true star of the show. This quilt serves as a work of healing as she begins to reconcile the history all around her.
From the first paragraph, Sauer establishes the idea of quilting as suture, a word typically used for stitches used to hold a wound together. Her first chapter, “Patchwork” opens with pictures of the messy back stitching of something Sauer has sewed. Counterposing these images, Sauer moves readers to Rio, one of the many places the author has lived through her travels. She describes the city as hungry, its sharp mouths constantly searching for bones and blood. She writes, “I bump into one on the way to buy groceries and it slices my arm. I hold the cut with my opposing hand and an incision form from the inside of my skin, letting air in but no blood out” (Sauer 4). Sauer uses suture here to refer to her attempts to find healing via crafting.
She returns to the concept again on page 103, acknowledging that she can not be the first woman to make this connection. Sauer always makes sure to credit those who came before, saying, “Education, I find, has less to do with knowing things and more to do with the crafting and recrafting of oneself” (Sauer 104). She references Dr. Gladys-Marie Fy’s Preface to Stitched from the Soul: Slave Quilts from the Ante-Bellum South, which documents how slave women would quilt their diaries due to being denied traditional educations.
As a whole, Almonds are Members of the Peach Family pulls historical vignettes through time. Sauer carefully intertwines the story of her grandparents with her own life. Their lives mostly exist in Nevada County, California, where readers are introduced to the version of her grandmother, or Billimae, that Sauer is most familiar with—the caretaker: “She ladles the brine into a bowl and serves it with oyster crackers. She spreads the heart with a butter knife on toast and tells the child to eat, to help herself to more” (Sauer 8). Sauer’s writing peels back these small, tender moments for readers to reveal their quiet intimacy.
The descriptions are transparently honest, transitioning from the above heart-wrenching moment of connection between a younger Sauer and her grandmother, to her grandmother’s description of domestic abuse at the hands of her husband. The transition is jarring, laying out her Grandpa’s veteran status and referencing a friend once saying, “‘Where is my purple heart? My father got one in Vietnam, but what about the rest of us who still have to fight the war he brought back home?’” (Sauer 9). The audience isn’t spared her grandparents’ suffering, and by the end of the section readers are primed to see Sauer coping by way of the sound of her sewing machine.
The collection expands as it continues, becoming less interdisciplinary and more plain prose as Sauer tells Billimae’s tale. Here, the writing is truly given a chance to breathe comfortably, showcasing every side of Billimae, even the uglier ones. “It is family shorthand to call Grandma crazy. The screaming, the secrets, the lies, the sneaking of sweet things into hidden places all over the house, into her mouth. The cussing at and blaming of Grandpa for everything,” Sauer explains (59). The family villainizes this woman in her old age, some waving away any mention of domestic abuse towards her as fabricated. Sauer writes, “Now, Grandma is crazy because calling her this is easier on us. Pinning it on the woman excuses our own complicity in the normalizing of her pain” (59). She criticizes this simplification of everything her grandmother is, recognizing the depth in her past that has shaped her into who she is now.
Sauer is constantly reckoning with her history and family lineage, crafting and writing in an attempt to find some kind of answer. Between stories, readers watch her turn “pulp into pages… stitch linen thread between their creases and bind them to one another” (Sauer 71). Her language around the act is gorgeous, finding imagery in the household chores she idolizes through her words, reclaiming work that patriarchal society deems less than. For example, “I haul up bones from the river and sit, listen to the screaming left in them. I hold up each bone to the light, wipe it clean of debris, realign it back into its skeletal form” (Sauer 146). While her word choice turns morbid at points, it only adds to the passion behind her work and her desire to make something of it all.
Things do not end for Sauer here. After uncovering the bones from the graveyard, one can never truly be the same. Seams weaken over time, and eventually they’ll need to be reinforced: “I wake up late (6:50am), read for a few hours. I make coffee, toast a slice of bread, scrub the sink with borax, shoo away ants, re-hang the quilt, write in my slip, alternate between pushing back and suturing a heartache” (Sauer 149). In the face of it all, though, what Sauer has to do, and what we all have to do, is keep on living.
Izzy Astuto (he/they) is a writer majoring in Creative Writing at Emerson College, with a specific interest in screenwriting. When not in Boston for college, they live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His work has previously been published by Hearth and Coffin, Sage Cigarettes, and Renesme Literary, amongst others. He currently works as an intern for Sundress Publications, and a reader for journals such as hand picked poetry, PRISM international, and Alien Magazine. You can find more of their work on their website, at https://izzyastuto.weebly.com/. Their Instagram is izzyastuto2.0 and Twitter is adivine_tragedy.
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