THE BOOK OF FAMOUS IOWANS by Douglas Bauer

THE BOOK OF FAMOUS IOWANS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Young novelist Bauer (The Very Air, 1993; Dexterity, 1989) offers, for our third helping, a rural coming-of-age tale that could hardly taste more overcooked had it been left on the stove all night. Its Writers' Workshop notwithstanding, Iowa is not the usual destination of choice for the young and the ambitious. So when LeAnne Vaughn's husband Lewis brings her back to his family's farm in New Holland, she has to take her time adjusting. LeAnne was a small-town singer who grew up in Wyoming with big things on her mind--until she met Lewis in the bar in Cheyenne where she sang. At the time, he had been in the Army, and the world seemed filled with possibilities to both of them. After Lewis's father is killed in a tractor accident, he decides to take over the family farm--a fatal error, as it turns out. Leanne's son Will narrates the story, many years after the incidents in question, mingling recollections of his own sad life with incidents from his mother's, He explains how the free-spirited Leanne discovers too late that the prairie village of New Holland is inhabited mainly by staunch churchgoing farmers who rarely sing and never dance or smoke at all. The only roguish figure in town is Bobby Markum, pitcher for the local baseball club, and LeAnne takes to him like a drowning swimmer to a life preserver. Bobby and LeAnne manage to be discreet for a while, but eventually everyone knows. The inevitable catastrophes ensue. Bauer succeeds in portraying the inner lives of his characters with extraordinary clarity and precision, but he somehow fails to extract much genuine drama out of such evidently dramatic scenarios. His overwrought prose doesn't help. And the narrative device of concentrating largely on events that took place during one brief period of Will's youth gives a more maudlin than mature air to the proceedings. Precious and overdone.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1997
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Henry Holt