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Elizabeth Hodges gets creative with words to tell us what has gone into the making of her life.

A River Runs Through It

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If you have forgotten what it feels like to be a child, or if you have forgotten what it feels like to live as a child in a family, read Elizabeth Hodges' book "What the River Means," (Duquesne University Press, published as part of its Emerging Writers in Creative Nonfiction Series, $24.95).

Hodges is a wonderful writer whose book is billed as "creative nonfiction." This nonfiction is written in a lyrical style by someone who obviously loves words and their ability, when properly used, to magically re-create people, places and feelings.

Hodges grew up by the Severn River in Maryland, a setting not unlike that with which many Virginians are familiar. The river, as is obvious from the book's title, is a metaphor for her life — and for ours if we will only listen. But listening — like crabbing — takes "trust in what one cannot see and faith in a knowledge that is grounded both in patterns and in lore. [It takes] "in part, patience, silence, alertness, touch and steadiness. To crab with success also demands a complexity of coincidences and luck."

To read this book also takes a bit of patience and quiet, both items that are difficult to come by in today's overscheduled and computer-driven life. But take the time to read this one, not expecting some bloody "thriller," but rather a conversation with the author, and some meditations on and examples of the difficulties and joys that come from growing up in a functional family. You will be rewarded by some beautiful descriptions discovering that Hodges has, for example, in one paragraphed pinioned the urban sprawl so many sociologists complain about:

"If I were, en route to Baltimore from Richmond, to turn right at Benfield Boulevard and follow it to Riggs Road, which no doubt is still the only road out to the peninsula, I know there would be houses everywhere. But — and this is why I always keep on straight up Route 3 into Baltimore — I know that if I did turn right, before I had driven two hundred feet down Benfield Boulevard I would find my inner map erased by multiple lanes and traffic lights, by packs of houses and the necessary strip malls, by professional parks and quick-stop shops and Thank God It's Friday restaurants, by crossroads with a gas station or a McDonald's in each corner, by diversions from the original road itself."

Life, Hodges tells us, means change; it can mean intense sorrow, but the past is part of what we become. We are lucky that she is able to tell us so well what has gone into the making of her life.



Elizabeth Hodges teaches writing at Virginia Commonwealth University. She is associate director of the composition and rhetoric program at that university.

Style asked her about her writing and what creative nonfiction is. She told us:

"Some assert that there is no such things as nonfiction, that the minute we begin to recount events with a narrative structure that shapes them, we have edged into fiction. But I don't agree. I think fiction and nonfiction writers often have very different contracts with readers and very different relationships with the people and events they write about. And I think that for many nonfiction writers, that difference is quite evident in how they go about telling their stories. I know, for me, that I don't 'develop' characters; I give the details I saw, the impressions I felt, acknowledging that there are huge gaps in that knowledge, but arguing, I guess, that my knowledge of, say, my grandfather, is a real as is my older sister's. And the fact is, because she and I are quite different in the eras we came from and the people we are, we know a very different grandfather. We talk about it, sometimes in awe, but we don't debate if one of us is more right than the other."

Click here to read the complete interview with Hodges and an excerpt from "What the River

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