Memoir: Hunting Easters Eggsby Elizabeth Reed
Darcey Steinke, Easter Everywhere (Bloomsbury, 2007)
In Easter Everywhere, a spiritual memoir, Darcey Steinke examines the contrasts between the earthly and religious. One can imagine why she might be so inclined. Her mother is a beauty queen; her father, a minister. The gap between the material and the spiritual is at once a basic theological dilemma and also at the root of Darcey Steinke’s identity. In seeking resolution, she gathers together (in the spirit of Easter) a basketful of funny, meaningful, heartbreaking, and fable-like reminiscences.
Early in childhood, Steinke imitated her father by performing baptisms, marriages, and funerals in the woods. She illustrates her emergent powers of irreverent synthesis: “I married the jungle gym to the swing set and the toaster to the blender. I made marriages that would better both parties, darkness to Popsicles and bath time to cotton candy.” Steinke’s prose capably integrates the pagan and the monotheistic; her theology of inclusion, wonderment, and imagination defines and defends a turf for those who claim faith and open-mindedness. Steinke’s holistic approach to religion incorporates the views of a lesbian nun who says that God is a girl. Darcey instructs her daughter, “‘Everybody has their own idea of God … maybe Mother Nature is God …You decide what you want to believe.’”
The author’s memories are hospitable, inviting. But perhaps because she covers so much ground—half a lifetime—the linear imperatives of the narrative rush the gentle and beautiful moments. (To fully luxuriate in the careful imagery, one must read slowly.) Some of the best parts of the writing, transitions and understated juxtapositions, are overpowered by pace. Through accumulation, the scenes do complement one another; enriched by others, the fainter images gain bits per pixel.
While Brooklyn doesn’t have theological significance in the work, it behooves Brooklynites to know that it is the backdrop for the adult years of Steinke’s life. Reading Easter Everywhere in Brooklyn felt like a bonus. The experience echoes an observation by Walker Percy. The central character in The Moviegoer remarks that he enjoys watching a movie that is set where he watches that movie. Then, when he exits the theater, he marvels that he is “somewhere” instead of “anywhere.” By reading Easter Everywhere in the borough, the author’s religious struggles become that much more immediate. Steinke runs up and down Hicks Street; she interrupts her father with his girlfriend when she enters the downstairs of a Brooklyn rectory; she attends Brooklyn’s Grace Reform. All this had the benefit of enhancing this reader’s notions of a particular “somewhere.”
In her childhood, when she wasn’t making a dangerous imitation of the Eucharist out of sumac berries, or marrying dogs to cats or gyms to swing sets, the funny yet spiritually attuned Steinke was preoccupied with finding a “fenestral opening” in the attic. She wanted a holy structure to be placed exclusively for her to be able to gaze upon God. Well, that which she did not find, she has made: a kaleidoscope of images finally does give way to that “fenestral opening,” albeit a literary one, through which one can stare lovingly on the divine, or, if you will, glimpse Easter everywhere. If the images are rushed, maybe that is because it is difficult, even hubristic, to try to see God all at once. If what we get ephemerally glitters, shimmers, casts spells, vanishes, and whispers, then we’re that much more expectant to see the tableaux completed. Once everything is laid out, Steinke invites us to stand next to her and realize what an exquisite vantage point we have been given.