A writer examines her childhood in the rural Midwest in this debut memoir.
“If you ever come to these gently rolling hills in northeastern South Dakota,” writes Scoblic early in her book, “with the farmlands nestled near two clear lakes, decorated with the twisting of the Whetstone River, late May would be the time to make the trip.” In this land—beautiful and hard in different ways—the author began life as Barbara Hoffbeck, the seventh child of Roman Catholic farmers who had struggled through the Depression. Growing up in the 1940s, Scoblic experienced a childhood that was in some ways picturesque: picking the strawberries that grew on the family’s property and catching snapping turtles with one of her many brothers. But there were tragedies, too, as when the author’s oldest sister, who had no control “over her muscles” and lived in a crib, died when Scoblic was 7 years old. In addition, two of the author’s siblings were sent to live with her grandparents. Scoblic wanted more for herself than the difficult road of her parents, and she eventually went to college, served in the Peace Corps, and settled permanently in New York City. Yet the lives of her parents, siblings, and extended family were never far from her mind, and this volume of reminiscences charts not just the stories of her youth, but also the ways those things have shaped and weighed on her throughout her adulthood. The author’s prose is lyrical and highly observant, offering surprising, incidental details, as in this passage about sitting in church: “Through those narrow openings, scents of grass and wild clover filtered in, along with a few flies and box elder bugs. Those bugs gathered in great clusters on the sides of buildings every August. When viewed up close, they displayed an art deco design of slate gray and orange.” Featuring family photographs, the memoir is infused with a subtle melancholy, which is perhaps to be expected in a book about a place and people now gone. But in the folds of the digressions and anecdotes readers will find an unmistakable joy on the part of Scoblic: the joy of returning to a place, having left it. The joy of carrying it within her wherever she goes.
A shaggy but powerful work about a South Dakota family.