An appealing, occasionally humorous journey from isolated childhood to fulfilling adulthood, set against the ever-dwindling prairies of small-town Iowa.
Price (English/Univ. of Nebraska, Omaha; Not Just Any Land: A Personal and Literary Journey Into the American Grasslands, 2004) uses a self-effacing voice to guide us through his early days as a youngster in Fort Dodge, surrounded by relatives who had emigrated there decades earlier from Sweden. Roaming alone through the woods sharpened his eye for nature’s beauty, and his generous description of Iowa’s woodlands, rivers and prairies, much of it now inexorably giving way to farmland and development, is a treat for the nature lover. Price is even more entertaining in his anecdotal chapters: “High Maintenance,” which chronicles his hapless attempts at plumbing; “Mole Man Lives!” an account of his nerdy revenge against obnoxious high-school classmates; and “Love Mountain,” which traces his awkward courtship of wife-to-be Stephanie, culminating in a honeymoon in a camp trailer. He introduces us to such memorable characters as his slowly failing grandpa Andy, whose increasing dementia surfaces in comical fantasies of Olympic gold medals and wrestling matches with grizzly bears. We also meet Price’s wayward cousin Dave, who parlays an early love for dark comics and heavy-metal music into a side career as a traveling lecturer on Satanic youth cults. The author is less successful when he reaches for deep meaning and metaphor in strained, overwritten considerations of the life journeys he and his ancestors have taken in America’s heartland. Nonetheless, Price knows how to find beauty in quiet moments, watching his 10-month-old son crawl through the grass alongside their oversized house cat, or savoring the stillness of an early-morning stroll following an overnight snowfall.
A winsome, perceptive coming-of-age memoir.