We Hold Our Breath: A Journey to Texas Between Storms (Hardcover)
Houston’s story has always been one of war waged relentlessly against water.
“Houston spread like a glass of milk spilled on the wobbling table of Texan plains,” Micah Fields writes in this unique and poetic blend of reportage, history, and memoir. Developed as the commercial hub of the Texas cotton and sugarcane industries, Houston was designed for profit, not stability. Its first residents razed swamplands into submission to construct a maze of highways and suburbs, giving the city a sprawling, centerless energy where feral cats, alligators, and poisonous snakes flourished in the bayous as storms and floods rattled coastal Texas.
When Hurricane Harvey made landfall in 2017, Fields set off from his home in Iowa back to the battered city of his childhood to rescue his mother who was hell-bent on staying no matter how many feet of rain surged in from the Gulf. Along the way, he traded a Jeep for a small boat and floated among the storm’s detritus in search of solid ground. With precision and eloquence, Fields tracks the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, one storm in a long lineage that threatens the fourth largest city in America.
Fields depicts the history of Houston with reverence and lyrical certainty, investigating the conflicting facets of Texan identity that are as resilient as they are catastrophic, steeped in racial subjugation, environmental collapse, and capitalist greed. He writes of the development of the modern city in the wake of the destruction of Galveston in 1900; of the wealthy Menil family and self-taught abstract painter Forrest Bess, a queer artist and fisherman born in 1911 who hardly ever left the Gulf Coast; of the oil booms and busts that shaped the city; of the unchecked lust for growth that makes Houston so expressive of the American dream.
We Hold Our Breath is a portrait of a city that exists despite it all, a city whose story has always been one of war waged relentlessly against water.
About the Author
Micah Fields is a writer, teacher, and fly-fishing guide on the Missouri River. His work has been published in the Oxford American, Gulf Coast, Baffler, Columbia Journalism Review, Field and Stream, and other outlets. He served as a Marine Corps infantry rifleman from 2007 to 2011 and is a combat veteran of deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. He lives in Helena, Montana.
A life can be found in the grid of a city, among its habits, and through its history. Houston—a city of mud and hubris—may not be the natural subject of a lyrical memoir, but Micah Fields truly makes it so. His story—deeply personal and often harrowing—makes this place and his place in it matter intensely and beautifully.
— D. J. Waldie, author of Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir
Rather than blindly condemning its industry, its sprawl, its ugliness, or its doom, Micah Fields’s loving, honest, and beautiful debut is a portrait of Houston by a native son who might not call the city home anymore, but who still recognizes its place in his heart, the same place where all of our hometowns reside, where every town that’s left, forgotten, flown over, or ignored remains in spite of ourselves. We Hold Our Breath is a portrait of us.
— John D’Agata, author of The Lifespan of a Fact
We Hold Our Breath quite breathlessly blends the rural and urban, past and present, and industrial and postmodern Souths. [This is] an artful Texas tale of humans and other animals working with and against land and nature on that state’s coast and in its most populous city.
— Zandria F. Robinson, coauthor of Chocolate Cities: The Black Map of American Life
A brilliant, beautifully crafted memoir and history of a tragic place cast in contradictions inherent to our often-vexing species. Micah Fields’s human subjects—from barbaric conquistador to saintly fisherman/artist—arise in full flesh. His descriptions of nature’s best works and humanity’s worst are the very definition of artistry. And his gift of reflection leaves us thinking differently about tomorrow—while holding our breath.
— Jack E. Davis, author of The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea
In this brief yet memorable book, Fields creates an unsentimental yet poignant story that examines the complexities of one man's homecoming. With eloquence and grace, the author investigates the interconnectedness of place, history, and identity. A thoughtfully elegant, reflective work.