Plot: Ramsey captivates with this sensitive, soul-searching account of his life's journey. The memoir's thoughtful structure is marred only by some repeated stories that work to take readers out of the narrative.
Prose: In language that shifts from reflective to meditative to achingly tender, Ramsey aptly conveys a profound gratitude for life even in the midst of depression or emotional suffering. He has a particular talent for connecting the natural world with his inner life, offering descriptive prose that holds both dreamlike wonder and a dread of mortality.
Originality: Ramsey's highly original approach to memoir, and his willingness to take narrative risks and discard a linear approach to time, draws in readers and leaves a haunting impression.
Character Development: Ramsey lays bare his vulnerabilities and chronicles his compelling quest for wisdom and meaning. Deftly shifting from his childhood to adult years and back again, and interspersing the narrative with art and poetry, Ramsey creates a delicate and beautiful web of emotion connections.
Blurb: Meditative and haunting, Ramsey's memoir navigates hard emotional terrain with wonder and hard-won wisdom.
Date Submitted: June 08, 2017
"Just as memoirs were all the rage in the previous few decades, creative nonfiction has become the hot literary genre of the moment. As nonfiction, it denotes stories drawn from factual occurrences. The creative part manifests in the liberties taken by practitioners of the form in telling of their true-life tales. In All I Want to Do Is Live: A Collection of Creative Nonfiction, Durham's Trace Ramsey, who was best known as the creator of the zine Quitter before receiving the 2017 Alex Albright Creative Nonfiction Prize, conveys his life experience with unsparing intimacy in vignettes that take on various forms, including essays, poetry, and comics. The collection, published by Pioneers Press through a crowdfunding campaign, moves in nonlinear fashion to sketch out an inner landscape whose dark places have struck a chord with early readers. Ramsey recollects often-unsettling events from his childhood as well as adult concerns such as parenting and the strains of family life."
"Trace really takes his reader through the labyrinth of his terrified and frustrated inner self. Do not mistake; it is not a finger-pointing memoir of abuse. Though, with candor and confusion, Trace does recount the baffling and painful world of life with a stepfather whose primary language was violence. It is not self-pitying or whining—rather looking at his own children and his own father, and trying to piece together confusing jagged edges that don’t match. How will he answer the questions for his own children? What will their questions be? If he doesn’t understand the questions himself, how can he find answers for himself, for them … for anyone?
With searing honesty Trace paints a kaleidoscope of his life that is almost reminiscent of Salinger’s “The Glass Family Chronology.” Except where Salinger’s structure was intentional, Trace layers work for different eras and perspectives to create an innovative way to address the question."
"If you took the Annie Dillard book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and mixed in personal observations of your life with depression and family, you would have Trace Ramsey’s new memoir All I Want To Do Is Live, published by Pioneers Press in Kansas. It’s not, however, simply nature musings for those who delight in the astounding sights, sounds, and smells of nature. Ramsey helps us to see through his suffering eyes how depression, like raw, wild-eyed nature, looks, feels, and even smells like.
He has a line toward the end that I find most compelling, 'I am a ghost unsure of my method of haunting.' That line says so much about Ramsey’s feelings about himself, as well as, I suspect, his uncertainty about whether he’s said anything in the book that’s real and solid and meaningful."
"One thing I've always admired about Trace's writing is that he manages to look back at the past without getting sentimental about it. His stories and essays are like autopsies, laying bare what it means to be part of a family, what it's like to struggle with depression, what it's like to be alive in this world; even the tender moments aren't over-romanticized. This is the hard stuff, the raw stuff, but there's beauty here, too--the beauty that comes from describing life as it is in all its heartbreak and its glory."
"Structured in four parts, including nonfiction chapbooks and zines, uncollected autobiographical essays, poems, and interviews, this volume impresses with its fresh scrutiny of both inner and outer worlds. “Farthing Street,” for example, begins by describing weeds in a lawn, “tall and heading out to seed, the view from our front stoop full of henbit, broadleaf plantain and pepperweed.” The author’s keen eye then turns inward to recollect watershed moments: a birthday present of a hunting shotgun; a first episode of depression in high school; the difficult birth of his first daughter, Tennessee. The inventory of weeds—growing in a lawn so neglected that the city of Durham, North Carolina, places a notice on the mailbox—blossoms into a full-blown essay that meanders with purpose and insight through major topics, such as his partner’s miscarriage. The essay also offers an unflinching acknowledgement of how difficult early fatherhood is, especially for a person hailing from an abusive family and suffering bouts of debilitating depression, before the speaker strikes out to mow the grass while his daughter, now a toddler, waves at him through the window."
"Trace Ramsey's lush prose takes the reader into a challenging space. While it often settles into the darker realms of the mind, it is also contemplative and rewarding with a message of finding purpose in living life for those we love. Ramsey's writing may find him walking alongside his demons, probing them, and conversing with them, but it is, ultimately, an uplifting look at the journey of life for those whose minds deal with mental illness on a daily basis."