Bob Isaacson's Blog

Welcome to this blog. It is basically a collection of stories, letters, essays, reviews, and poems that I have written over the past years, some of which were published in the Santa Barbara Independent and other local publications.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Review of Cynthia Carbone Ward's "The Salvage Faith of the Secret Heart and Other Essays"

Cynthia Carbone Ward on Hollister Ranch

… the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time
                           T.S. Eliot

Cynthia Carbone Ward has written 31 very personal reflective essays that have been collected in her newly published book, The Savage Faith of the Secret Heart and Other Essays.

The focus of these essays spans virtually Ward's entire life up to now, from that of a child gathering pinecones on Long Island up to her current life as the mother of an adult daughter, living in the splendid solitude of a windswept canyon on the Hollister Ranch. Ward’s is a very American tale, complete with deep Old World roots and westward movement, coast to coast, pausing, like so many of our narratives, at the very edge of the Pacific.

These really are essays in the original sense of the word, essays in the anecdotal and reflective tradition of Montaigne, in which essays are literally an attempt, taken from the French term, essais, to explore a subject, not comprehensively or syllogistically, but privately, personally, intuitively.

Each of Ward’s essays offers readers a powerful and memorable experience, one which can compel readers into examining their own lives and cause them to start to explore their own experiences that are now over, but by no means over with. Ward bases most of her material on personal, even very private,memories, moments of everyday betrayals by childhood friends, misinterpreted generosities, small redemptive moments with her father, confusions of the heart with a deeply disappointed mother, misplaced loyalties, long pointless journeys on Greyhound buses, a flooded Gaviota Creek, the sale of her daughter’s horse -- saying good bye in so many unexpected ways to the people, places, and things she has loved. Through it all, her voice remains strong and clear, firmly rooted in the world by the careful language she weaves, leading us in each of her essays to tentative conclusions, sometimes deeply troubling, sometimes openly heartfelt, sometimes starkly ambivalent, sometimes qualified by all the complexities that will inevitably cloud our moments of clarity.

There is a keen mind at work in these essays. Ward often tackles, with much agility, precision, and even downright elegance, the sort of deep level life experiences we have all to some extent shared, the ones in which, as T.S.Eliot phrased it so well, “We had the experience but missed the meaning.” While these essays contain fragments of a life story, Ward offers her readers far more than mere autobiography: Her lucid prose offers us an insight into how a mind makes meaning by directly confronting those ghosts that we once knew all too well but now pretend to no longer see.

But those ghosts are still there, wandering our hallways, dragging their chains, making their clunking night noises, seeking resolution, consolation, peace. We all know that. We can only fool ourselves so long. The Savage Faith of the Secret Heart and Other Essays can offer the fully attentive reader numerous clues as to how to confront those ghosts and see them for what they are, and, by embracing them, find the words to set them free.

The Savage Faith of the Secret Heart is available at The Book Loft in Solvang and Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara. For information and online orders, go to or contact