On April 20th, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon, a BP operated oil rig, exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven men died in the explosion. Before the well was capped, it spewed an estimated 210 million gallons of oil into the gulf. The spill directly impacted 68,000 miles of ocean, and oil washed ashore along the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.
Connie May Fowler began that day as she had begun most days for the previous sixteen years, immersed in the natural world that was her home on Alligator Point on Florida’s gulf coast, surrounded by dunes and water birds, watching dolphins play in the distance. Then began the nightmare from which she would not emerge for more than a year.
In her memoir, A Million Fragile Bones, she details the beauty and peace she found on Alligator Point after years of heartbreak and loss, and the devastation and upheaval that followed the oil spill. It is, at its heart, a love song to the natural world and a cry of anger and grief at its ruin for the sake of corporate profits.
It is also a cautionary tale – a clear-eyed look at the real cost of our seemingly insatiable appetite for fossil fuel. As the memoir points out, we will continue to abuse the natural world at our peril.
Connie May Fowler is the author of seven other books: six critically praised novels and one memoir. Her novels include How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly, Sugar Cage, River of Hidden Dreams, The Problem with Murmur Lee, Remembering Blue—recipient of the Chautauqua South Literary Award—and Before Women had Wings—recipient of the 1996 Southern Book Critics Circle Award and the Francis Buck Award from the League of American Pen Women. Three of her novels have been Dublin International Literary Award nominees. Connie adapted Before Women had Wings for Oprah Winfrey. The result was an Emmy-winning film starring Ms. Winfrey and Ellen Barkin. In 2002 she published When Katie Wakes, a memoir that explores her descent and escape from an abusive relationship. She teaches at the Vermont College of Fine Arts low residency creative writing MFA program and directs the College's VCFA Novel Retreat.
Quite by chance, the day after I finished A Million Fragile Bones, I saw Deepwater Horizon on an airplane. Both deal with the tragic events of the 2010 BP oil spill. While the film focuses on the explosion itself, which even from that tiny screen conveyed the horror of it all as well as the negligence and greed that set it in motion, Connie May Fowler’s memoir takes in the appalling aftermath. I recommend the film if you happen to get a chance; the memoir, however, is a must.
Fowler, a long-time environmental activist, ends with an Appendix: BP’s Making of a Disaster. But before all the well-documented facts and figures, she concludes her personal story. Filled with wonder, passion, rage, dignity, this memoir will touch your heart. While acknowledging the greed and inhumanity adrift in our world, it is, above all, a confirmation of the astounding beauty of our natural world and the powers of healing and growth. --Barcelona Review Issue 89, Jill Adams
A Million Fragile Bones is a compelling read. Both the memoir and non-fiction tug at our heartstrings. Even after having read about the oil spill and watched it unfold daily on television, there are many facts that have escaped our attention, swept under the rug by the industry and our leaders. Here you learn the cold, hard truth. The horror of what happened, and the damage from which the gulf (and the world beyond) has still not recovered. And, living vicariously through Connie’s love of nature, everything becomes more beautiful, poignant, and tragic.
The world needs this book. --Troy Ehlers Musings on Fiction
A Million Fragile Bones is a marriage of truth-telling and story: it is a love letter to the natural world, and a grief-stricken wail at its destruction, as the book jacket says, “for the sake of corporate profits.” But it is her examination of the connection between humans and the natural world that keeps the book from sinking into sorrow. The composition Fowler creates from this connection—her exploration of our shared DNA— is nothing less than a love song of molecules. Because of this, her fury is righteous, and her pen is mighty. -- Appalachian Review, Spring 2018, Reviewed by Katherine Scott Crawford