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Sunday
May052019

Book Review: The Consequence of Stars

The Consequence of Stars: A Memoir of Home. David W. Berner. New York: Adelaide Books, March 28, 2019, Trade Paperback, 212 pages.

Reviewed by Lisa Lickel.

David W. Berner, author of Any Road Will Take You There and There’s a Hamster in my Dashboard, offers in his newest memoir a series of nineteen linked essays traversing his childhood in Pennsylvania through early adulthood to contemporary life. Berner tackles the idea of “home” through a series of defining moments. The opening chapter is a revelation of what home means, launching life from the safety and wonder of the front porch with sleepovers, board games, and plotting explorations of the neighborhood. “This is how one built a life in my hometown. It’s what people did. They grew up in unexceptional little neighborhoods, went to the same Sunday church services, attended the same elementary, middle, and high schools, got jobs at the mills or the local banks, bought homes near their parents, drank at the corner bar with their old high school friends on Friday nights, and raised kids who would grow up and do it all over again. For a time, I was moving straight down that path, doing what you’re supposed to do.” 

Berner’s first inkling of the meaning of home came at age seven when he decided to run away. “Leaving home was supposed to evoke sadness in the person being left behind”; a part his mother refused to play as she cheerily waved him onward. A short trek through the safety of his concerned neighborhood soon routed him back home.

Exploring home takes Berner back to study the lives of his parents, who never ventured far from their natal community. Wartime duty and a stay in a tuberculosis sanatorium may have been enough adventure for the couple who married and raised children near their extended family. 

The essays feature themes of growing up, the gradual realization that life is an ever-expanding bubble rapidly enveloping the mysteries of “outside”; “things we don’t talk about,” such as the effects of the Vietnam War to memories of the way we want to believe events unfolded instead of how they truly happened. A look backward shows Berner the truths of friends and family that no one can see in the moment.

“Life is a series of comings and goings,” Berner writes as he prepares to leave for (not very far away) college. He was the “oddball” thinker in a family of blue-collar workers, destined for higher education. By the time he was eighteen years old, he “understood that we must abandon our homes to find our new ones, and leave our hearts behind in hopes that our souls will be endlessly restored.”

Abandoning home eventually meant settling in the Chicago area, 500 miles away, where he lived in several places in the second reiteration of his life, that of a radio host. “I was the first in my family in nearly a hundred years to leave” Pittsburgh, Berner says, evoking the first tears he’d seen his father shed. Raising his family is a serial repeat of watching lessons Berner learned as a child play out in his children. Exotic travel and instilling the sense that no matter how temporary the space, Berner notes that a piece of self stays behind. “Leaving” is always undertaken with the sense of “returning.”

Through a lifetime of experiences calling different places home, from a writer’s retreat in Florida to visiting Europe to meeting a new life partner and molding out a space of his own, Berner concludes, “It is by leaving home we can heal best in order to return.”

“Home is what you carry with you. And, in that spirit, I have been transporting my home with me wherever I go.” 

Lyrically written with earthy language, Berner shares intimate details of a life seeking and understanding his place "to be"—a place of love and acceptance, a place to practice and grow and share himself. The Consequence of Stars is a call for all of us to revisit our lives and reach for the elusive elements of what we call home.

 

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