Friday, October 13, 2017

Jules Older reviews "Unbound: A story of snow and self-discovery"

Unbound: A story of snow and self-discovery
By Steph Jagger

In one of the most beautiful spots in most beautiful New Zealand, the author finds herself “on all fours in a gravel parking lot, cowering like a wounded dog … wailing at the world in anger and frustration. Tears slipped down my cheeks, and thin strands of drool ran over my lips and chin. I watched a whole river of snot as it dripped from my face …”

Thus begins a memoir that, despite the dripping snot, is, I promise, the most fun you'll ever have reading a ski book. It’s my strong hunch that it’s also the most fun you'll have reading a journey of self-discovery, but since I usually avoid that genre like Zika virus, I can't be sure.

What I am sure of is this; Steph Jagger’s Unbound is a sexy, funny, deeply personal romp ‘n stomp that opens in that New Zealand parking lot and bounces from there to Canada, the Andes, the Alps, the Rockies and Japan. With layovers in Bali, San Diego and New York City.

On her quest to ski four-million vertical feet across five continents in a year, Steph falls in love, falls in lust, falls from a horse, falls on ice and falls off a mountain. Eventually, she discovers that all this falling — much of it bruising, both physically and emotionally — is a message from the Universe to change who she is and the way she presents herself to the world.

If you're taking a year off to ski four-million vertical feet — pretty much the world record — that says a lot about how you see yourself. Jagger describes Jagger as competitive, athletic, determined, obsessive and, in a feminine sort of way, manly. She mans up. Soldiers on. Has a “huge set of balls.” After one too many falls, she starts to wonder if this is really the way she wants to be.

In addition to being one of the world’s most determined skiers, Steph Jagger is one hell of a writer. She knows how to set a scene, tell a tale, use the precisely right word and find the perfect analogy.


Oh, and deliver a punchline. Here, she’s describing her feelings while waiting to meet Chris, her new love, at Narita Airport in Japan: “What if I don't recognize him? Should I hug him? If I hug him, do I do a full hug, or do I keep hold of my stuff and do a one-armed hug? Holy shit, what if I give a one-armed hug to a man who isn't Chris? I was in mid-spaz when I spotted him, which turned out to be relatively easy. We were in Japan, after all, and Chris is a six-foot-tall white dude.”

Jagger has the same way with words when describing the sensations of skiing, sex, the taste of food: “You know when you eat something delicious, and you put the first few bites in your mouth, and you can barely breathe, it’s so good? You know that feeling where your mouth gets all slobbery, and you eat a few more bites, and moan a little bit, and the whole thing is orgasmic?”

The woman can write.

But while I love her rises and falls, her highs, her lows, her metaphors and similes, a couple of things give me trouble. One is that instead of saying, “And then I realized …” she repeatedly writes, “The Universe was telling me …”

Maybe. But I'm more a believer in personal Ah Ha! moments than in private messages from the Universe, God or guardian angels.

The other thing is that every revelation brings Steph to tears, to her knees, to her bed midst the pain of self-discovery. I figure if it was my insight, I'd just say, “Wow. That’s cool.”

Maybe that’s just simple, earthbound me. And despite Jagger’s close relationship with invisible forces, I love her snowy, sexy, irreverent book.

Unbound: A story of snow and self-discovery
By Steph Jagger
(Harper Wave; 290 pages. $US26.99 hardcover)


Jules Older is an award-winning ski writer and editor, and creator of Writing For Real, a course he teaches at San Francisco Public Libraries. He’s also creator of the ebooks, SKIING THE EDGE and DEATH BY TARTAR SAUCE.

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