A memoir in the tradition of William Least Heat-Moon and Larry Wiowode about growing up in rural North Dakota.
Poet and fiction-writer Marquart (The Hunger Bone, 2001, etc.) recalls her 1960s childhood on her parents’ farm. When not at school, she was milking cows or picking rocks out of the fields. She envied the town girls their carefree, chore-less existences and was determined not to marry a farm-boy and be saddled with her mother’s life. As a teenager, she escaped, going to college and then breaking her parents hearts by dropping out. Marquart’s sure prose carries the reader along like a river: “If you installed my memory like a slotted reel on a player piano, the ghostly keys would play out this tune: There is the gravel turnoff to Grandma and Grandpa Geist’s old place; there’s the farm where the Doll triplets lived.” Writing about her parents, the author is generous but sharp-eyed. Indeed, any parents unlucky enough to beget memoirists should hope to be described as the elder Marquarts are. But she fails to deliver on the book’s prologue, which promises a story about her leaving and returning—emotionally if not literally—to North Dakota. Although Marquart includes an account of her father’s funeral, which necessitated a trip back home, it is never clear that she has really made her peace with North Dakota. Further, there are a few distracting gaps in the narrative. Marquart details her rebellious 20s, during which she toured with rock bands and never had enough money for food or rent, and she makes it clear that she eventually landed on her feet as an associate professor of English at Iowa State, but she never fully explains how she got from touring to teaching. A few more pages filling in these lacunae would have elevated this spare book.
Evocative, fresh and lovely, if incomplete.