Reviewed by Rachael J. Hughes
Odyssey of Ashes: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Letting Go (She Writes Press, 2021) is the story of Cheryl Krauter’s journey from loss to healing through the unexpected hobby of flyfishing. Her late husband, John, revered the sport, and posthumously wins a trip that was a lifetime dream. Krauter goes in his place and finds some peace in the aftermath of his passing. During her journey she leans on those she encounters who give her support and strength to go on.
There’s no pulling of punches with this book: From the beginning, we vividly experience the death of her husband through her eyes. And I won’t lie—I was crying so hard, I had to put the book down on several occasions. That is good writing. In the moments after her husband’s death, she sits with a relative and meditates, “Now, together, we sit in honor of the dead and in sorrow and suffering for the living. The quiet surrounds us in the freezing funereal tomb.” What a powerful way to describe her house in the wake of her husband’s death.
You know when you pick up a book with a title such as Odyssey of Ashes that you’ll need to pick up a box of tissues as well. But what Krauter does so masterfully—like any good writer—is write about all this sadness without self-pity, even the parts where she talks about pitying herself. For example, Krauter talks of how her lifelong wish was to own a time machine. After John’s death, she reflects, “All of my life I have dreamt of having one of my own. Now it seems I have one of my own making, as I become an explorer in this infinite stream of memory and loss.” She often uses water imagery to express her grief and the experience of wading through it, and it complements the themes tied to fly fishing in the book.
She writes a lot about fly fishing because her late husband loved it so much, and it becomes an integral part of the plot. For example, I now know that waders are the special boots that fly fishers wear, and that the lures are called flies—because they are artificial flies used to lure the fish. There were times when I almost grew disinterested because there was too much terminology, but it was not enough to distract me from the great writing found throughout this book.
Overall, I found Odyssey of Ashes: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Letting Go a riveting read that grabbed me from the beginning and floated me throughout—as if I were on a fly-fishing boat with Krauter, sailing through her grief and taking her memories with her. It’s definitely heart-wrenching and I recommend it to anyone who struggles with grief or who enjoys a good—but sad—read.