Blunt, mordant, impatient, attentive: This is the tone throughout I Heard the Vultures Singing, a book of 16 essays shuttling between two main reference points – the non-human world of the Pacific Northwest, and the debilitation of the body. In “Knowledge Game” she says, “It takes courage to spend time considering nature when your life is circumscribed, because this means considering what you have lost.” She isn’t making a case for her bravery, but rather pointing out something she knows and we don’t, namely that gazing at the beauty of nature may be trying. This book is largely intent on wrecking given standards for the appreciation of life, and replacing them with the chance to look intently at life itself. Perillo is greatly talented in situating us -- in a place where we may experience an impingement, life intruding on us. The function of the chastened view from her wheelchair is to disrupt our expectations while depriving us of opportunities to feel virtuous about it. The physically stricken person tells us that nature abhors a plenitude and achieves some of its greatest accomplishments while scrounging through the ruin and decay.
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