A memoir chronicles a writer’s return to the ranch where she was raised.
Hasselstrom (No Place Like Home: Notes from a Western Life, 2010) largely grew up on a ranch in South Dakota, a slice of bucolic prairie land she left to pursue an education but returned to repeatedly. After her first marriage collapsed under the weight of her husband’s serial infidelities, she moved back to recover and, later, built a home on the property and lived there with her second husband, George. She still resides there with her new husband, Jerry—George tragically died from Hodgkin’s disease. The author’s remembrance is a catalog of journal entries covering one year broken into 12 chapters—each one representing a month of recollections. Hasselstrom interrogates her past with the scrupulousness of an investigative journalist, mining the family’s archival records—her mother’s and father’s journals and grandmother’s letters figure centrally—in order to understand her own place in the world. She wrestles to fully comprehend the bitterness her father experienced as a result not only of endless toil, but also debilitating health problems and the consequences of her mother’s bout with mental illness. The cynosure of the account, though, is her attachment to a ranch that is her family’s bequest, a parcel of land with an uncertain future: “I move through my days accompanied by thoughts of those who worked the land here before me, the people who are responsible for my being here. They will all be part of whatever decision I make about the future of this place.” Hasselstrom’s prose evocatively depicts the splendor of her natural environs and the way its beauty is complicated by attached memories not always sanguine. Her reflections are searching and elegantly meditative and traverse a broad swath of territory, including authorial creativity, cattle, and love. Since this is a diary kept daily, a good deal of space is reserved for documenting the quotidian: the weather, what the author prepared for lunch, and the kinds of work clothes she prefers. This content is unlikely to grab most readers.
A beautifully written consideration of the relation between home and personal identity.