Agee, Jonis. The River Wife. Random, 2007.
From acclaimed novelist Jonis Agee, whom The New York Times Book Review called “a gifted poet of that dark lushness in the heart of the American landscape,” The River Wife is a sweeping, panoramic story that ranges from the New Madrid earthquake of 1811 through the Civil War to the bootlegging days of the 1930s.
When the earthquake brings Annie Lark’s Missouri house down on top of her, she finds herself pinned under the massive roof beam, facing certain death. Rescued by French fur trapper Jacques Ducharme, Annie learns to love the strong, brooding man and resolves to live out her days as his “River Wife.”
More than a century later, in 1930, Hedie Rails comes to Jacques’ Landing to marry Clement Ducharme, a direct descendant of the fur trapper and river pirate, and the young couple begin their life together in the very house Jacques built for Annie so long ago. When, night after late night, mysterious phone calls take Clement from their home, a pregnant Hedie finds comfort in Annie’s leather-bound journals. But as she reads of the sinister dealings and horrendous misunderstandings that spelled out tragedy for the rescued bride, Hedie fears that her own life is paralleling Annie’s, and that history is repeating itself with Jacques’ kin.
Among the family’s papers, Hedie encounters three other strong-willed women who helped shape Jacques Ducharme’s life–Omah, the freed slave who took her place beside him as a river raider; his second wife, Laura, who loved money more than the man she married; and Laura and Jacques’ daughter, Maddie, a fiery beauty with a nearly uncontrollable appetite for love. Their stories, together with Annie’s, weave a haunting tale of this mysterious, seductive, and ultimately dangerous man, a man whose hand stretched over generations of women at a bend in the river where fate and desire collide.
Carr, Patrick J. and Maria J. Kefalas. Hallowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What it Means for America. Beacon Press, 2010.
In 2001, with funding from the MacArthur Foundation, sociologists Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas moved to Iowa to understand the rural brain drain and the exodus of young people from America’s countryside. They met and followed working-class “stayers”; ambitious and college-bound “achievers”; “seekers,” who head off to war to see what the world beyond offers; and “returners,” who eventually circle back to their hometowns. What surprised them most was that adults in the community were playing a pivotal part in the town’s decline by pushing the best and brightest young people to leave.
In a timely, new afterword, Carr and Kefalas address the question “so what can be done to save our communities?” They profile the efforts of dedicated community leaders actively resisting the hollowing out of Middle America. These individuals have creatively engaged small town youth—stayers and returners, seekers and achievers—and have implemented a variety of programs to combat the rural brain drain. These stories of civic engagement will certainly inspire and encourage readers struggling to defend their communities.
Culver, John and John Hyde. American Dreamer: A Life of Henry A. Wallace. W.W.Norton, 2001.
The great politician, agriculturalist, economist, author, and businessman—loved and reviled, and finally now revealed. The first full biography of Henry A. Wallace, a visionary intellectual and one of this century's most important and controversial figures. Henry Agard Wallace was a geneticist of international renown, a prolific author, a groundbreaking economist, and a businessman whose company paved the way for a worldwide agricultural revolution. He also held two cabinet posts, served four tumultuous years as America's wartime vice president under FDR, and waged a quixotic campaign for president in 1948. Wallace was a figure of Sphinx-like paradox: a shy man, uncomfortable in the world of politics, who only narrowly missed becoming president of the United States; the scion of prominent Midwestern Republicans and the philosophical voice of New Deal liberalism; loved by millions as the Prophet of the Common Man, and reviled by millions more as a dangerous, misguided radical. John C. Culver and John Hyde have combed through thousands of document pages and family papers, from Wallace's letters and diaries to previously unavailable files sealed within the archives of the Soviet Union. Here is the remarkable story of an authentic American dreamer.
Enger, Leif. So Brave Young and Handsome. Atlantic monthly Press, 2008.
Enger's second novel is a marvelous tale of an unsuccessful writer and an elderly train robber on a cross-country journey to confront past demons. Dan Woren's narration is steadfast and resolute throughout, offering two unique characters each with his own colorful view of the ever-encroaching modern world. While there is little in the way of varying dialects and tones at work, Woren offers believable and realistic protagonists that immediately capture the listener's imagination and holds it until the end.
Maltman, Thomas. The Night Birds
. Soho Press, 2008.
The intertwining story of three generations of German immigrants to the Midwest—their clashes with slaveholders, the Dakota uprising and its aftermath—is seen through the eyes of young Asa Senger, named for an uncle killed by an Indian friend. It is the unexpected appearance of Asa’s aunt Hazel, institutionalized since shortly after the mass hangings of thirty-eight Dakota warriors in Mankato in 1862, that reveals to him that the past is as close as his own heartbeat.
Meyers, Kent. Twisted Tree: A Novel. Mariner Books, 2010.
Compared to the work of Carver, Proulx, Matthiessen, and Faulkner, Twisted Tree
has made an already acclaimed author shine anew with deserved praise.
Meyers’s work has been dazzling readers since his debut, but here they
find a writer who is, as noted by the Rapid City Journal, “on the brink of a breakthrough.”
Jo Zimmerman is gone. And the people of small-town Twisted Tree must
come to terms with their loss, their place in it, and the secrets they
all carry. As one girl’s story unfolds through the stories of those who
knew her, Hayley Jo’s absence recasts the lives of others and connects
them, her death rooting itself into the community in astonishingly
violent and tender ways.
And so Kent Meyers, one of the best
contemporary writers on the American West, offers a tribute to the
powerful effect one person’s life can have on everyone she knew.
Mutel, Cornelia. The Emerald Horizon: The History of Nature in Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2007.
In The Emerald Horizon, Cornelia Mutel combines lyrical writing with meticulous scientific research to portray the environmental past, present, and future of Iowa. In doing so, she ties all of Iowa's natural features into one comprehensive whole.
Since so much of the tallgrass state has been transformed into an agricultural landscape, Mutel focuses on understanding today’s natural environment by understanding yesterday’s changes. After summarizing the geological, archaeological, and ecological features that shaped Iowa’s modern landscape, she recreates the once-wild native communities that existed prior to Euroamerican settlement. Next she examines the dramatic changes that overtook native plant and animal communities as Iowa’s prairies, woodlands, and wetlands were transformed. Finally she presents realistic techniques for restoring native species and ecological processes as well as a broad variety of ways in which Iowans can reconnect with the natural world. Throughout, in addition to the many illustrations commissioned for this book, she offers careful scientific exposition, a strong sense of respect for the land, and encouragement to protect the future by learning from the past.
The “emerald prairie” that “gleamed and shone to the horizon’s edge,” as botanist Thomas Macbride described it in 1895, has vanished. Cornelia Mutel’s passionate dedication to restoring this damaged landscape—and by extension the transformed landscape of the entire Corn Belt—invigorates her blend of natural history and human history. Believing that citizens who are knowledgeable about native species, communities, and ecological processes will better care for them, she gives us hope—and sound suggestions—for the future.
Reding, Nick. Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town. Bloomsbury USA, 2009.
The bestselling book that launched meth back into the nation's consciousness. Based on Reding's four years of reporting in the agricultural town of Oelwein, Iowa, and tracing the connections to the global forces that set the stage for the meth epidemic, Methland offers a vital perspective on a contemporary tragedy. It is a portrait of a community under siege, of the lives that meth has devastated, and of the heroes who continue to fight the war.
Smiley, Jane. The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton. Ballentine Books, 1998.
"An immensely appealing heroine, a historical setting conveyed with
impressive fidelity and a charming and poignant love story make
Smiley's new novel a sure candidate for bestseller longevity. . . .
Lidie Harkness, a spinster at 20, is an anomaly in 1850s Illinois. She has an independent mind, a sharp tongue and a backbone; she prefers to swim, shoot, ride and fish rather than spend a minute over the stove or with a darning needle. That makes her the perfect bride for Bostonian abolitionist Thomas Newton, who courts and marries her in a few days while enroute to Lawrence, K.T. (Kansas Territory), with a box of Sharps rifles. Propelled by Lidie's spirited voice, this narrative is packed with
drama, irony, historical incident, moral ambiguities, and the
perception of human frailty. . . . This novel performs all the
functions of superior fiction: in reading one woman's moving story, we
understand an historical epoch, the social and political conditions
that produced it, and the psychological, moral, and economic
motivations of the people who incited and endured its violent
confrontations." --Publishers Weekly (starred review)