You must buy this book. I'd pre-ordered it from Amazon.com, and when it arrived, I tore into it greedily and was done in a matter of hours. Toni's writing is like that for me. On occasion, I'll stumble across her work in San Francisco Chronicle
Magazine--and I recognized some of the pieces in this book as having been originally published there--and I can count on having the same basic response to whatever yarn she may be spinning: towards the end of the piece, there'll be a sudden flash of insight. (Call it an epiphany if you must.) Sometimes it's pleasant; sometimes it's disturbing. Regardless, whatever it was that struck me will stay with me all day, and I'll keep coming back to it, turning the idea over in my head, no matter how whimsical the insight may've been.
Pink Harvest is a series of short creative nonfiction pieces, linked together either thematically or chronologically, or even loosely linked by a word that reverberates into the next story. Toni Mirosevich's brush reaches fairly broad--to Italy, Croatia, the Pacific Northwest, San Francisco, to home just south of the city along the Pacific Coast. Yet the book feels remarkably close; that's how brilliantly Toni is able to paint her world and bring you right into the very foreground. She writes about encounters with people: friends who grow apart, friends who come back together, friends who reveal a secret kept hidden for years. She writes about family: a political discussion with mom, or dad, who ekes out a living from the sea, yet recognizes how wealthy they are when he can show his daughter a small herd of white deer. Largely unsuccessful at prying out of her mother her Nana's stories of the Old Country, Toni seeks out the past in returning to Croatia (meanwhile cringing after the break-up of the Soviet Union that her name, Mirosevich, is so close to Milosevic, which leads to ruminations on violence and guns.) There's also the old man who dies in her neighborhood, leaving behind a home no one knew harbored a million-dollar view. Then there's the spat with his daughter over a writing table she originally hadn't wanted. Toni's partner, Shotsy, a nurse, always hovers on the edges, entering and exiting the narratives, but some of the stories must have come from conversations over dinner, after work: There's the story of the broken, alcoholic ex-Marine who torments his family. The unexpected, underlying message is simply to cherish them, to love them more. But lest that sound schmaltzy, elsewhere in Mirosevich's world, upside-down paintbrushes in a jar can become a heart-stopping insult.
Toni's prose is straightforward yet beautiful, never precious but dead-on descriptive. The book never sags or loses momentum. Every single story holds a surprise. These tales of happenstance capture, I think, what Virginia Woolf meant by "moments of being."
As I said, you must buy this book. Or buy two. Keep one and pass the other along.
[Full disclosure: Toni was one of my instructors at San Francisco State and also was one of my thesis readers, but since I've long since graduated (2001), there's no need for me to suck up. Although I'm sure I sound like a cheerleader, I'm speaking the truth. And, while we're at it, you must also buy her book Queer Street.]