Jessica Hendry Nelson, "Joy Rides Through the Tunnel of Grief" (U Georgia Press, 2023)


Jessica Hendry Nelson, Joy Rides through the Tunnel of Grief (University of Georgia Press, 2023) is a compelling memoir in essays. When Nelson's father died from an accident caused by complications of alcoholism, she knew immediately she had inherited his love-that it left his body, traveled through the air, and entered her own. And so, she needed a place to put it. She needed to know what to do with it, how not to waste it, how to make something with it, how to honor it and put language to it. So, she placed it with her brother, Eric, whose opioid addiction made his death feel always imminent. With her partner, Jack, together for thirteen years. With her exhausted, nicotine-addicted mother, her best friend Jessie, women at the gym she never met but loved completely. But mostly with her future child, the one she does not yet have but deeply wants. The child who is both the question of love-and the answer to it. 

So, when Jack suddenly confesses that he does not want to have children-not with her, not ever-the someday vessel for her boundless and insatiable love hunger swiftly disappears, taking with it a fundamental promise of her life: motherhood. Joy Rides through the Tunnel of Grief catalyzes from this place. Fluidly navigating through past, present, and future, Nelson asks: Where does her desire to have a child come from? Are the imperatives to make art and to make a child born from the same searching place? Are they both masked and misguided attempts to thwart death? Nelson investigates the tremulous makings and unmakings of our most intense and fragile bonds-family, friends, lovers-with searing insight, humor, and tenderness.

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Jana Byars

Jana Byars is an independent scholar located in Amsterdam.

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