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An eclectic, appealingly no-nonsense set of appreciations of the heartland.

A clutch of personal essays about Midwestern life that captures the region’s humor, seriousness, and occasional strangeness.

This collection by poet and essayist Reese (English/Mount Marty Coll.; Really Happy!, 2014, etc.) contains a handful of interludes cataloging bumper stickers he’s seen in his travels through the Midwest and Great Plains: “Nuke the Whales”; “Don’t Mess with My Country”; “Against abortion? Don’t have one.” They underscore his point that it’s a region of the country that’s hard to pin down. From essay to essay, Reese bemusedly works to sort it out—blessedly, without a hint of Garrison Keillor’s labored folksiness. In one comic piece, Reese recalls his ill-fated stint as Willy the Wildcat, mascot of Detroit’s Wayne State University; alcohol, come-ons, and physical abuse all came with the job. Elsewhere, he chronicles his struggles to fit in with a hard-drinking friend in rural Nebraska and the years he spent trying to get closer to his close-lipped in-laws. “I question my own existence and purpose in life every time I leave this new home of mine,” he writes, but he approaches the region from a place of tenderness; the title essay is an admiring portrait of his father-in-law straining to keep hold of his farm. But the narrative’s true centerpiece is an essay reconciling his childhood fears growing up in Omaha with his hesitance to teach writing in prisons, something he’s done for a dozen years regardless. There, he masterfully weaves his personal history with observations of the prison system both intimately (in the prisoner’s writings, their tattoos, the strict regulations) and broadly (the troubled prison system, race and class divides). By comparison, some of the shorter pieces in the closing pages feel slight: riffs on watching TV at the gym, reading Harry Potter with his daughter, or visiting a memorial for a hanged circus elephant. But the variety is the appeal, and Reese is skilled in many registers.

An eclectic, appealingly no-nonsense set of appreciations of the heartland.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-62288-203-8

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Stephen F. Austin State University Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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