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Narrow River, Wide Sky: A Memoir

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In the vein of The Liar's Club and The Glass Castle, Jenny Forrester's memoir perfectly captures both place and a community situated on the Colorado Plateau between slot canyons and rattlesnakes, where she grew up with her mother and brother in a single-wide trailer proudly displaying an American flag. Forrester’s powerfully eloquent story reveals a rural small town comprising God-fearing Republicans, ranchers, Mormons, and Native Americans. With sensitivity and resilience, Forrester navigates feelings of isolation, an abusive boyfriend, sexual assault, and a failed college attempt to forge a separate identity. As young adults, after their mother’s accidental death, Forrester and her brother are left with an increasingly strained relationship that becomes a microcosm of America’s political landscape. Narrow River, Wide Sky is a breathtaking, determinedly truthful story about one woman’s search for identity within the mythology of family and America itself.

212 pages, Paperback

First published May 2, 2017

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About the author

Jenny Forrester

7 books42 followers
Author photo credit: Intisar Abioto

Colorado Book Awards Finalist, 2020 for Soft Hearted Stories: Seeking Saviors, Cowboy Stylists, and Other Fallacies of Authoritarianism.

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5 stars
91 (43%)
4 stars
50 (23%)
3 stars
49 (23%)
2 stars
15 (7%)
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4 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 52 reviews
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,698 followers
July 15, 2017
“Where do we bury our mothers when there is nowhere we belong?”

Narrow River, Wide Sky is a flint of words that sparks themes of place and family and the crushing weight of imposed religious morality. Jenny Forrester recounts life in a remote Colorado town, marked by poverty and violence, promiscuity and drug abuse. Her perspective is clear-eyed and blunt, and she spares no one in sharing her truth, but there is no blame or recrimination in her memory. Compassion for those who failed her, acceptance of her own failures, and a holding to account of the cult of blind faith that Christianity can impose on the weakest of us mark her earthy narrative. Her prose glows with a particular warmth of a woman grown comfortably into her skin, after the hard work of questioning and acceptance. This is a lovely work of words, reflection, and wisdom.

My thanks to Hawthorne Books for the opportunity to read and review this author's work.
Profile Image for Deb Stone.
52 reviews15 followers
May 8, 2017
Jenny Forrester’s debut book Narrow River, Wide Sky will make you breathe the way an old-school slide show does. Oohs and ahhs, like when she describes “where a creek flowed into the narrow river from the high mountains to the south and spread out into the grassy pasture where the rosehips grew.” Or, “the high desert and the mountains and alpine meadows while I listened to the rain and drank coffee…” You see the image as if she’s slipped a slide in a projector, imagine you were there, feel the moist earth, smell the dusty air. An old-fashioned slide show with its gentle whirring motor gives more than distant views, and so does Forrester’s writing. She shifts to the rapid clicks of staccato sentences when the going gets tough, clicking faster through slide after slide: “Brian became the man of the house.” Click. “The guns went under his bed.” Click. You can hear life shift in Forrester’s prose. The small town dreams of a girl who believed herself too much—too talkative, too fat, too strong—are bound to result in dark days. “And I spiraled away from God. I practiced my poker face in the dark.”

The white space on the page lets the reader spend the millisecond between one slide and the next, where one’s interior wilderness fills each with their own brand of grief or guilt. When Forrester writes, “And he didn’t say anything else,” we can feel all the not-said things in our own lives that left us feeling bereft. Just when you dizzy from the rush of short tight sentences for all those short tight moments, Forrester sets you free in lyrical prose: “The water my mother breathed in her last breaths could be the water at my feet on an Oregon shore. The cycle is constantly connecting the ocean and all things, resting sometimes in a heart-shaped agate or a universe of living and dying in a tide pool or in a bird bone sunning on a beach after its journeys.” Narrow River, Wide Sky is a memoir of place: Oregon rain, Colorado sky. A fable of broken things: kitten paws, promises, diving rules, and faith. It's a slide show of making and breaking of kinship, the loss and reclamation of self. It’s a story of heart as big and wide as the Colorado range, a river rushing toward an ocean of grace.
Profile Image for Susanna.
447 reviews10 followers
June 7, 2017
I've eagerly anticipated reading Jenny Forrester's NARROW RIVER, WIDE SKY ever since I was fortunate enough to get to read an excerpt a couple of years ago. Jenny Forrester and I have several things in common -- we're fairly close in age, both grew up in Colorado, both have different political opinions than much of our families, and both understand and love/don't love the combinations of tough people and incredible landscape and cultural tension that comes with being a young woman striking out on her teenage years amid a family that's falling apart in a rapidly changing social environment.

The path of this memoir meanders like a river, from Forrester's early years in Colorado ski country, out to the dry mesas of southwestern Colorado, back up into the slopes of the Mesa Verde Mountains, and then away to Arizona and beyond. It's just about 200 pages of tight storytelling and reflection, all peppered with scenery so beautiful you can smell the pines. The narrator grows from a tenderhearted child to a teenager and finally to a mother who can, at last, appreciate the mother she lost too young -- an appreciation that is almost too late, and bittersweet. Well, listen to her tell it:

I wasn't from around there anymore, but I felt my western Colorado localness as if it were real. Even then. The belief in my own belonging had been a hard-won thing. I'd become part of the mesas and mountains, the sage and piñon, the alpine wildflowers and the rocks above timberline.

It was hard to let go of all that I had to let go. ... I still resist letting go, believing in my belonging the way I used to believe in God.

But, it is all becoming ghosts.

Where do we bury our mothers when there is nowhere we belong? How do we settle with ghosts? (p. 41)

The scene where the narrator finally meets her daughter took my breath away:
I breathed the go-away-pain breath. The Pitocin dripped. I was going to meet my baby soon.

The Smashing Pumpkins played 'Today' -- 'Today is the greatest.'

In the haze of adrenaline and pain and painkillers and childbirth, I told Ron I understood things.

'It all comes down to this moment.'

He was huddled in the corner, afraid of all the suffering. I told him that it was okay, nothing I couldn't face, and I knew that now. I was so happy.

As I breathed, the adrenaline rushed and raced and swirled and I was back in time when I used to run the country roads, the long winding gravel roads, the skinny paved roads, the dirt path, the empty fields. I was free then. And I ran and ran. Not fast or strong, but free in solitude, I felt a real kind of power. All I needed was my two feet and open space and I had all that.

I ran back into the present, and with one more massive push, met Chiara.

Big bright blue eyes, wispy halo bit of hair. She looked straight into me.

We were born right then, in that moment, born of high elevation Colorado breath and glacial peaks and narrow whitewater rivers and wide desert sky and hope for more compassion, less violence, and something more--solitude. Freedom. I wanted to give her something I'd received.
(pp. 184-185)

Oh yes, I forgot to mention that the book is also about running, and sex, and being in a girl-body that is never quite right whether it's too fat or too thin or something that you'll look back on as perfect.

It's a very personal book -- as all memoirs should be -- and a book that expresses something elemental about being a human on earth -- as all memoirs should do.

An audiobook is coming soon, I hear.

Profile Image for Kelly.
28 reviews55 followers
June 4, 2017
Just as I was finishing Narrow River, Wide Sky by Jenny Forrester the power went out. When I closed the book I went to write about it on my computer but then I remembered the power was out.

So I'm sitting here on the porch in the peaceful Colorado early evening and absorbing the beauty of this story and writing on my iPhone.

As a woman and a fellow traveler, I know this story, recognized myself in it. Different choices and circumstances, a similar time, though I'm twelve years the author's senior.

This is the story of one woman's journey to herself, a journey begun underneath the same Colorado sky that raised me up, by a river like the ones I too swam in my growing years, rivers with banks kept narrow. I, too, sought to widen the rivers I come from.

I love the understated voice of this narrator, how she illuminates the ways women are made to also be narrow rivers under wide skies. How she leads us through those passages into the wider sea of ourselves. This is a beautiful tribute and love story to what it is to be a woman. Though place is integral to the story, it does not limit its truths to geography. There is a deeper, wider geography here. That of a woman.

Sent from my iPhone
6 reviews
October 5, 2017
Jenny Forrester’s memoir, Narrow River, Wide Sky is an honest and brave account of a child finding her place and herself among the Colorado landscape. Her story centers around her relationship with her mother, as complicated as all mother-daughter relationships are; full of strength, adoration and longing. Forrester’s storytelling weaves tales of childhood that depict the complex connections that we all have with our family members. Connections full of conflict, differing memories, patriarchy, and politics, but also loyalty and endless hope. Forrester’s account is set amidst the unforgiving and powerful landscape of Colorado and is as much about Forrester’s search for belonging amid the landscape surrounding her as it about her own sense of self in relation to her family. Both intimidated by and drawn toward her rugged surroundings, Forrester writes about place like no one else. This debut memoir from a powerful writer and individual is a must read.
Profile Image for Tracy.
Author 2 books14 followers
June 6, 2017
I don't generally write reviews, but I loved this beautiful, heartbreaking book and want others to read it. I admired the way the story goes into dark places, but does so with curiosity and open-heartedness, and without exaggeration or blame. I'm also a sucker for a story that can bring me into place in a way that I feel in my bones. Even though I've never been in the landscapes Forrester describes, they live like characters here. And her human characters, her family, friends and neighbors, are each so beautifully complicated. They are loving and cruel and flawed (like all of us) and you get the sense as Forrester writes in her intro "their lives are much bigger than any one story could contain."
Profile Image for Mary.
1 review2 followers
May 7, 2017
Loved this memoir by Jenny Forrester. Compelling, page-turning yet never overly dramatic. Truth-telling and vulnerable yet never whiney. Jenny has worked hard, in both prose, and apparently life, to understand the nuances and complexities of life. She creates vivid images of the world she inhabited, the high and dry mountains of southern Colorado. You'll trust her as a narrator, she has a generous yet stingingly honest approach to events and characters in her story. This is a book I'll read again.
Profile Image for Shari.
588 reviews10 followers
May 11, 2017
Jenny Forrester's new memoir is gorgeously written; she is both unflinchingly honest and generous of heart when she navigates the tricky territories of family and the ways in which place can shape our identities. And while her story is grounded in a very specific time and place, the truth of the story transcends it. I deeply appreciate a writer who can capture the beauty of a place without romanticizing it and write about people in all their messiness while still allowing them to be fully human.
Profile Image for Kathy.
3,304 reviews175 followers
September 15, 2017
Read this last week because it was a clean, new book that did not weigh too much for me to carry home from the library. Knew nothing about it or any previously published stories by this author. This book is lyrically written with knife-edge honesty and meaningful especially for those who study mother/daughter relationships.
Profile Image for Tracett.
439 reviews8 followers
November 24, 2017
I had to wait a month after reading this to write a review. I needed her words to settle in. The honesty of the clear-eyed telling of Forrester’s youth is a little bone shaking. While there’s plenty of tough living here, don’t overlook the surprise dry humor she sneaks in. A harsh and beautiful memoir, Narrow River is one of my favorite books of 2017.
58 reviews4 followers
November 15, 2017
Jenny Forrester’s memoir drew me in, then got under my skin, then filled me with sadness and life and joy. A beautiful book.
Profile Image for Margie.
61 reviews
October 22, 2018
This book is a simple yet deep treasure. It checks off all the boxes for a book I’ll long remember. Her story resounds with lyrical brilliance and painful life lessons that not only opens my eyes and mind but leaves me with more compassion and empathy for all creatures and our beautiful, natural world.
Profile Image for Dianah.
584 reviews46 followers
March 27, 2017
Jenny Forrester's engrossing memoir "Narrow River, Wide Sky" is a coming-of-age tale that unfolds effortlessly. From her hard-scrabble childhood, through her turbulent teens, into her awakening young adulthood, Forrester's story covers poverty, politics, partnering, and more, against the backdrop of her ever-growing awareness of feminism. She chronicles her fraught relationships with her mother, her absent father, and her brother; the boys and men who take advantage; and the small-minded folks who make up her rural neighborhoods. Told in a straight forward voice, this memoir is a wise look at the way life shapes us, and how we can be redeemed by finding our own truth. Funny, poignant, beautiful, and raw, Forrester's memoir is a must-read addition to Pacific Northwest literature.
Profile Image for Carly.
389 reviews
March 10, 2018
This book had such high reviews and I love southeastern Utah/southwestern Colorado so I was really intrigued by the idea of this book but... meh. It seemed like it was less of a story she wanted to tell or lessons to teach the reader, and more just personal things she needed to get off her chest. Honestly I could've just read the epilogue and gotten the whole story in a few pages. Memoir is a tricky genre-- if it's not done carefully it can quickly devolve into "poor pity me" and that's what a lot of this book felt like. Also she is a good writer but the story was confusing at times, the wording a little too nuanced and vague while trying to be poetic.
Profile Image for Jane Hodges.
Author 13 books6 followers
December 17, 2017
Big, life-spanning, western, feminist memoir, reconciling gender roles in rural America in a most fascinating and empathetic way. I experienced the memoir as audiobook, so the actor-narrator's intonation influenced the story, but I still came away with a sense of both frustration and empathy on the part of Jenny-the-narrator at her tough mother's position/stance and the difficult position she found herself in with controlling and angry men.
Profile Image for Kate.
956 reviews6 followers
May 24, 2017
Forrester writes beautifully and poignantly about struggles with family and the healing beauty found in the Pacific NW after she, her husband, and young daughter (now an adult with a Master's Degree) settled in Portland. This story spans her early childhood to the present.
Profile Image for Kelly Coughlin.
26 reviews10 followers
June 7, 2022
I listened to this one on audible after taking a memoir class from Author Jenny Forrester.
I would have preferred to listen to this in the author's voice rather than the chosen narrator's, whose tone seemed a bit too sing-song for the story and made it sound more naïve than perhaps it was intended. Mispronunciations of places and other things were distracting.

I live in the still small, but fast-changing town where most of this memoir takes place, and so really enjoyed the descriptions of places past and present, and her recollections of growing up in rural Colorado small town.

The complexities of her relationship with her mother are addressed with sensitivity and nuance,
and although this could have ended up being yet another trauma memoir about a cruel parent, Jenny matures as time goes on, reframing and reaching some level of understanding and compassion for her mother that not everyone would have been generous enough to entertain.

Alcoholism is part of this book also, although it is not an addiction memoir. In particular, family members' relationship with money is very telling of their relationships to self and each other.

A very enjoyable read, though I wanted there to be less scope and more depth, that being my preference and not a reflection on the author's choice.

I plan to read her next volume, before the haunting mood from this one has time to fade.
Profile Image for Maggie.
31 reviews
January 7, 2018
I enjoyed this book but my main issue with it is that I wanted more detail! Forrester writes in a style that sometimes feels more like poetry than prose, with big, juicy life events boiled down to a few sentences. She would include so many ideas and events in a single page that it left my head spinning a bit. I appreciated the depth and consideration that she gave to her relationships with her mother and brother. I wanted her to go deeper into some of the things that seemed to really shape her, like becoming sexually active, having an abortion, finding feminism, dropping out of college, and coping with domestic violence. Forrester seemed to compromise the time she spent on these (seemingly hugely significant) life events in order to place her mother at the heart of the narrative.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Nancy Slavin.
Author 3 books15 followers
June 7, 2018
Hawthorne Books published Jenny Forrester’s debut memoir Narrow River, Wide Sky last spring, keeping with their tradition of publishing beautiful, concise books that explore vast feelings. The memoir is a study on place and placement, and how a young person finds a sense of belonging when they feel like an outsider in their own hometown. Forrester’s prose is stark but lyrical, a paradox of form that mirrors the paradoxes her memoir explores, like how love can be full of violence, or how a fierce mother can also be neglectful, or how a beautiful Colorado landscape can be brutal. Forrester's vulnerability and strength as a character, a woman coming of age, comes across in her writing, and is the kind of memoir we need to see more of.
Profile Image for Jodell.
1,137 reviews
December 31, 2019
There's a place where Mother Nature's got it all together
She knows just when to let wild flowers bloom
Somehow she always seems to know exactly what she's doin'
And the Lord saw fit to furnish elbow room
Have you ever been down to Colorado?
I spend a lot of time there in my mind
And if God doesn't live in Colorado
I'll bet that's where He spends most of His time
I'd love to be there watching, early in the morning
The sun comes up and crowns the mountain king
If by chance you dare to be there high upon the mountain
I swear that you can hear the angels sing
Have you ever been down to Colorado?
I spend a lot of time there in my mind
And if God doesn't live in Colorado
I'll bet that's where He spends most of His time
Profile Image for Carmel Breathnach.
55 reviews17 followers
June 13, 2018
Authentic and stirring, Jenny Forrester writes beautifully on the themes of place, mother-daughter relationships, poverty, small town living, family, politics and feminism. I found myself engrossed in Jenny’s beautiful descriptions, her brave and vulnerable self-portrayals and her valuable insights. The author’s lyrical voice is compassionate, caring and honest and I was immersed in Jenny’s important story from beginning to end.
Profile Image for Lauren Rhoades.
110 reviews
June 20, 2019
A fascinating portrait of a childhood in rural Colorado. I grew up in Denver and the surrounding suburbs, and my experience felt lightyears away from this author's. The timeline of this memoir was confusing in places, and the end felt rushed--more like someone complaining about their bigoted relatives, then a deep exploration of why these divides exist. I appreciated reading about the beauty of the Colorado landscape, though. It made me miss my home state.
Profile Image for Joanne Kelly.
Author 1 book9 followers
July 4, 2020
Too much whining for me. I read this book because it is being featured on Pam Houston's "Readings by Writers" series, figuring Pam is an excellent judge of books, but frankly, I was disappointed. Forrester spends way too much time complaining about other people and feeling sorry for herself. While the premise of her story has potential, her language is frequently vague and difficult to follow. I think she is trying to be poetic, but it just didn't work from my perspective.
3 reviews1 follower
March 31, 2018
Forrester has awesome voice and language. However, the structure of the memoir is a bit lacking for me, particularly the first half. While there are some interesting ideas that begin in the first half, there isn't much exploration of those ideas until the second half. The delay is a little too long.
Profile Image for Patti.
23 reviews
May 3, 2018
Just OK. I think it might have been therapeutic for the author to get it off her chest. Parts of the book were certainly interesting and gave insight into different cultures. There were shared experiences we could relate to, or if not, at least be enlightened of another perspective. I did like the rambling style. And it was laid out there for us to draw our own conclusions.
Profile Image for Randi.
295 reviews
January 13, 2018
Memoir of a poor, rural childhood in the Rocky Mountains. Very honest, and the author bends over backwards to show understanding for her judgemental conservative, Christian relatives. Quite interesting, as these are the people who elected Donald Trump.
Profile Image for Leslie.
463 reviews4 followers
October 24, 2020
This raw and stark memoir of a childhood in Colorado filled with poverty and wanting was filled with many evocative memories and lovely writing. I wondered if anything good happened during the author’s childhood (maybe not?) Definitely worth a read.
Profile Image for Linda Rand.
4 reviews1 follower
March 12, 2019
Enthralling, poetic yet unflinching...the landscape weaves a hypnotic thrum throughout. I love the portrayal of the mother; it's nuanced, honest, and trustworthy. I cannot put the book down.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 52 reviews

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