I am not afraid to die. I would be sad to leave the world behind, and for all the people who would mourn me, but I have no real fear of my own inevitable death. Death, after all, is a very important part of life. “Savage Park,” written by Amy Fusselman and published earlier this year, drew me in because it calls itself “A Meditation on Play, Space and Risk for Americans Who Are Nervous, Distracted and Afraid to Die.”
As I said, I am not afraid to die. But I am often nervous, and often distracted. I have also never left the United States, or even the East Coast. So I suppose I am an American, for what that label is worth. So when I was given a copy of “Savage Park” with high recommendation I decided to crack it open and give it a shot.
The book opens with Fusselman relating a story about her friend Yelena, who invited Fusselman and her family to spend a month with Yelena’s family at their home in Tokyo. It is when writing about this invitation that Fusselman first starts to talk about space.
I never really thought about space before I read “Savage Park.” I took it for granted, that we are here on this earth and that space is all around us. Space was just the area in which I existed. Reading Fusselman’s novel has shown me a new way of looking at the world around me, because space is more than just what surrounds us.
Humans, I have noticed, have a remarkable ability to consider themselves the center of everything, because from our perspective, the world seems to revolve around us. We acknowledge that other people matter and that we are not actually the center of everything, but at the same time we take for granted that which seems inanimate to us. Even more than objects, we take for granted the space. Through her book, Fusselman has taught me that space itself is a thing that exists just as much as people and things exist; it is only that space is invisible.
“Savage Park” is about much more than space. Throughout the book, Fusselman moves seamlessly between various times in her life, back and forth between the same few years, starting with the time she went to Tokyo and first went to the place that gave the book its title. Savage Park is not the official name of the park, but simply the name that Yelena and her son give Hanegi Park.
Savage Park itself is what one would call an adventure park. Ranged around the park are open fires and various structures that “were clearly not made in any place where safety surfacing had ever been a subject of serious discussion.” The simple reason for this is that the structures were made by the children who play in the park themselves. Savage Park contains tools and building materials for the children to make whatever they want, creating their own play space.
After she came back from Japan, after experiencing Savage Park, Fusselman started to look into play. As I read I came to agree with her words, “Play is not something we do; it is something that we are.” Something about that line struck me very deeply. As my first year as a college student comes to a close, I realize that I have lost much of my sense of play, and I don’t think that is fair. Becoming an adult should not mean that I lose my sense of adventure and ability to live my life playfully. Fusselman does a good job here by reintroducing many of us to the idea of play and how it is not simply an action, but also a state of mind. I haven’t lost my sense of play because of lacking opportunities, but because in my studious ambitions I have forgotten to take hold of it.
I think the most amazing thing about this piece is that Fusselman maintains a steady conversation with the reader about her life and experiences with Savage Park and the people that she connects with because of the park. Her interactions with the park and how it changed her as a person are just as fascinating, if not more so than her ways of looking at play and space.
Fusselman’s approach to death was honest and open without being cruel. She not only expressed her personal opinions, but also how her young daughter viewed death and showed how children are capable of understanding things more than we think. This affected me deeply as death is something that I have come to accept in life, but I am often shy about it when I am interacting with children.
Within the novel, Fusselman shares with the reader so many lessons she learned through events that occurred during her time writing this book: taking a two-day class with the famous wire walker Philippe Perit, the birth of her daughter, the tsunami that hit Japan and when the child of a friend died—these are the lessons of life. Every word of prose packed into the 130 pages that I had the privilege to read has most definitely made a difference in my life. I still have no fear of death, but the way that I look at and live in space, the way that I enjoy my life, has changed.