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University of Nebraska Press

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Gretchen Lida reviews Randon Billings Noble

April 2, 2019

Be With Me Always
Randon Billings Noble
186 pages
University of Nebraska Press, $13.89

Writer and equestrian-extraordinaire Gretchen Lida reviews Be with Me Always, an essay collection with some of the most beautiful and thought-provoking juxtapositions between illness and literature, love and loss, by Randon Billings Noble.

In “Camouflet,” one of the essays in Randon Billings Noble’s new collection Be with Me Always, she quotes Lauren Elkin’s definition of a flâneur as “a figure of masculine privilege and leisure, with time and money and no immediate responsibilities to claim his attention.” He idles, and observes, he is an outsider. I, along with many nonfiction writers, was baptized in the idea of the flâneur: Montaigne in his tower, Benjamin among his city, even Emily Dickinson in her room; they all live in this intersection of observer, thinker, writer.

Noble is the flâneuse and her essays luxuriate in slow, careful observations, unwinding the themes of love, literature, and the body like a Renaissance garden. A rejection from a crappy boyfriend parallels the wives of Henry the VIII in “Sparkling Future.” The onset of depression after the birth of her twins in “Leaving the Island” takes on a Jungian mask in the shape of Robinson Crusoe. The essay “What of the Raven, What of the Dove?” chronicles Noble’s experience with illness through a copy of Terry Tempest Williams’ Refuge, which she takes with her to examine a growth on her neck. The birds and the language of mothers haunt the essay with mortality, legacy, illness, and love.

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