BOOKS:     assembling"a"life      in"her"words      reviews

Read what others are saying about Martha’s new memoir about her creative and enigmatic father.

a place of magic and divinity 

I believe faith to be more a facility of the soul than the product of religion. This is certainly the case in Martha Clark Scala’s Assembling a Life, a portrait of Geoffrey Clark, her late father (September 23, 1919-February 25, 2005). Geoffrey Clark was an accomplished meteorologist and a remarkable painter, whose artwork fills the pages of Martha’s book and decorates the walls of her home. He was also a volatile alcoholic whose tirades traumatized the household. But it is his paintings and subtle guidance that Martha highlights in her book, a tribute that makes his eventual deterioration from heart failure and Parkinson’s dementia seem secondary.

The Clark household, where Martha was nicknamed Happy, was utterly devoid of religion, yet for Martha it was a place of magic and divinity. A divinity to be found in the resilience of family members, the joy of household pets, and the creative juices that produced her father’s many paintings. In these, she finds a faith unencumbered by ritual and churchbound conceits. And this may be the purest faith of all.

—James Hanna, Author

The Siege, Call Me Pomeroy, A Second, Less Capable Head and Other Rogue Stories.

love, loss, images and humor

Assembling a Life is a collage of words and images, artfully presented, and a story artfully told. I have given this book as a gift, I have read it four or five times (okay, I was the editor--but even if I weren't I'd recommend this touching story by a sensitive writer/poet who longed to better understand her father). Martha blends love, loss, images and humor into a memorable palette.

—Darlene Frank, Author, Editor, Writing and Creativity Coach

Contributor: Times They Were A-Changing: Women Remember the '60s and '70s, Wide Awake, Pawsome Friends and the Fault Zone series.

a solution more beautiful than the puzzle

 

“Mysteries do not lose their poetry when solved. Quite the contrary; the solution often turns out more beautiful than the puzzle and, in any case, when you have solved one mystery you uncover others, perhaps to inspire greater poetry.” —Richard Dawkins

 

Martha Clark Scala set out to write a companion volume to In Her Words, published in 2012 to memorialize her deceased mother. Scala’s effort in her father’s memory soon became something very different — a collection of puzzle pieces nearly impossible to assemble into a solution. Assembling A Life evolves along three parallel tracks — Geoffrey Clark’s art as evidence, Martha Clark Scala’s quest to understand her father, and overt instruction in the art and creativity of collage-making.

 

Assembling the life of a father who revealed little of himself through conversation and much more of himself through sketches and paintings proved to be a multi-year quest. Scala takes the reader along on this journey as a confidant and trusted travel partner. The trip is not linear, nor is it chronological. Images evoke memories, memories invite exploration, but exploration does not always have a destination. The reader who is “along for the ride,” neither seeking nor expecting closure, will be richly rewarded.

 

Scala’s style is informal and highly personal. She speaks to the reader as a longtime friend, revealing her high hopes and trepidations about this memoir-turned-odyssey that she has undertaken. In these moments, her writing seems therapeutic, even cathartic. I wished she would share more of her self along the way. “Come on, Martha, how does this make YOU feel?” True to her role as the family peacemaker, she stands on the precipice and backs away. “But this is my dad’s book ... it’s not about me,” I hear her say.

 

The book is lavishly illustrated with family photographs and representations of Geoffrey Clark’s artistic talent throughout his life. The illustrations carry the story, and the family photographs are often a fascinating study in interpersonal dynamics. Scala does a good job of marrying the visual content to the text, although I found myself stopping to closely examine each illustration, to the detriment of losing the narrative.

 

The subtext of Assembling a Life as a guidebook for the reader to explore the art of collage as therapy or self-reflection is generally effective. Scala occasionally verges on the didactic in recounting her steps for creating a collage, especially in the early chapters. This is by design and the collage metaphor becomes more subtle as the

narrative progresses.

Assembling a Life succeeds best as a spark for conversation and kindling for self-exploration. I found myself wondering about my father, who disappeared from my life when I was nine, and died nearly 25 years ago. I have no artwork to examine, only some photographs and the occasional reminiscence from my now-deceased mother. How would I even begin such a journey? I don’t know, but it is something I would like to attempt.

 

Assembling a Life is a thoughtful family memoir and a creative guidebook for the art of collage. Only the author knows if her journey of understanding was a successful one. In attempting to solve the mystery that is Geoffrey Clark, Martha Clark Scala uncovers other mysteries, “perhaps to inspire greater poetry,” perhaps to continue a journey of reflection and gaze into the precipice. If she embarks again, this reader-traveler would like to go along.

—Anne Robinson Hallerman is a retired librarian. She has read thousands of book reviews over the past 40 years, and now she has written one.

a story that comes to life off the page

 

Martha Clark Scala’s book, Assembling a Life: Claiming the Artist in My Father (and Myself} is aptly titled.

Martha’s father, Geoffrey Clark, was a complicated person with multiple talents and a fierce, independent streak. For example, his behavior in the face of authority appears in interesting and varied ways. While it may be family lore, Geoff Clark did not graduate from Harvard because he refused to take the required swimming test. Scala did a lot of research to assess whether this colorful piece of her father’s history was true. Ultimately, much due diligence on her part does not really answer the question and it still remains unsolved. What she did uncover was her fathers’ poor grades; this might be his reason for leaving the prestigious school without a degree.

What is unique in this particular memoir is Scala’s use of collage both as art form and metaphor. By gathering bits and pieces of history, she has assembled a book-length collage, and a story, that comes to life off the page.

 

Scala includes several poems throughout the book to further illustrate the history and stories about her father and her family. She describes her collage-making tools as “blank paper or another surface, scissors, rubber cement, images and words. I also rely on intangible tools. These include willingness to experiment; an eye for composition and blending of textures, colors and images; attention to detail; and a sense of humor. Dad would have scored high on the intangibles, that’s for sure. I guess I would, too.”

 

A significant amount of the book looks into Geoffrey Clark as an artist. In what Scala describes as “quintessential Geoffrey Clark,” she shares a painting of a dog holding a drink and a pair of eyeglasses while smoking a pipe. Scala says the “whimsical painting seemed like a humorous self-portrait, except for the natty vest, necktie and canine features.”

 

Photos of the author’s collages and the poetry sprinkled throughout illustrate thoughts and feelings about Scala’s father and the rest of her family as well.

One comes away from Assembling a Life with a rich portrait of the author’s family and the author herself.

 

—Geri Spieler, Author

Taking Aim at the President: The Remarkable Story of the Woman Who Shot at Gerald Ford (St."Martin’s"Press)

inspiration to revisit my own family archives

 

In Assembling a Life, author Martha Clark Scala engages her reader with behind-the-scenes insights as she creates a lovingly honest, collage-inspired depiction of her father, his life, his creative work, and his impact on her family.

Throughout the book, Martha gives the reader intimate glimpses into her creative process, sleuthing adventures, and personal moments of healing while interweaving family stories, her own poetry and collages, and her father’s art pieces. Upon finishing the book, I’m inspired to revisit my own family archives to see what I can discover about my parents, my family, and myself.

—Carol McClelland Fields, PhD, Author

The Seasons of Change: Using Nature’s Wisdom to Grow Through Life’s Inevitable Ups and Downs

 

move over tuesdays"with"morrie

 

A remarkable book that honors the author’s father the way only a loving daughter could, shows the methods she used to research his enigmatic history, and beautifully displays photos of their art. Move over Tuesdays with Morrie to make room on the bookshelf for Assembling a Life by Martha Clark Scala.

—Robert M. Davis, Author

The Ticker, Will To Kill, When the Enemy is You and The Crackerjack