William Zink
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Buy *Pieta* by William Zink online

William Zink
Sugar Loaf Press
128 pages
July 2010
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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In Pieta, William Zink presents poignant images of a family dealing with the last days of its matriarch. This beautiful little book will most definitely read true for anyone who has lost a beloved parent to a long illness. It will also resonate for parents who have watched a younger generation begin to bloom as the older one fades away. Zink delivers an emotional wallop by juxtaposing the bittersweet moments his main character experiences with his elderly mother against those feelings he has observing his young daughter:

“Her smile, more than anything, helped to lessen my own fears, which were too big to let on.”
Alex, the daughter, comes alive through Zink’s sparse but powerful words: conquering that milestone of learning to ride her bicycle without training wheels, trying to comprehend her parent’s changing relationship, and understanding what it means for someone to die.

As the book progresses, readers learn about the tremendous love the protagonist, Jim Priest, has for his mother; a devotion that is at the heart of his future loves - girlfriends, wife, daughters. This is in sharp contrast to the careless tough-love his art-obsessed father wielded and the not-uncommon - except in its intensity - rivalries with his siblings that rendered Jim an outcast, too clearly in his mother’s camp.

“The bed was an oasis from the impending whirl of activity. My father and mother, each in their own twisted pose, would greet me with smiles scrubbed clean of any turmoil or unresolved duties. Here, then, I was an only child for a moment or two. The triad of mother, father, and son was uncomplicated, it was pure and simple, unlike during the rest of the day when I not only had to share their attention, but was forced into the role of youngest, and thus least significant son.”
Zink realistically unveils how the adult Priest and his older sister are able to discuss the past, even the sheltered family secret, with honesty and caring to create a closer bond. All of these revelations work to make Priest a more thoughtful, considerate father to little Alex.

The title of this book comes from the life-size sculpture of the virgin and child that Priest’s father devoted so much of his life to creating. The Pieta that his mother served as a patient model for throughout most of her life. The Pieta that became the center of family activities and strife. The Pieta that is at the center of Jim’s suspicion about his father’s dramatic death.

This is a book every author will wish he or she had written: universal themes; innovatively descriptive language; likable characters true to their generation that are handled with resounding compassion; and, an authentically complex story. Indeed, Pieta is so well-crafted that the reader doesn’t notice the effort, then suddenly has his or her breath sucked away by a luminous phrase or startling so-right image, as when Katie tells Jim, “She was the hope in the fire…And you had her.”

With Pieta, Zink deserves a large audience for a heartfelt work of reverberating beauty. He has also written three other novels and, not surprisingly, four books of poetry. (He wrote The Hole under the pseudonym “Marco Polio.”) I hope that Zink comes back to his extremely human, very humane character, Jim Priest. I want to know if his wife remains part of his life, I want to watch Alex grow up from her precocious beginning, I want to meet the small Peanut, and I want to learn more about Priest’s paintings. In the meantime, I’ll settle for Zink’s other works.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Leslie Raith, 2011

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