Low-key, smoldering portraits of the American heartland.
The 16 essays in this smart sequel to Knopp’s earlier study, The Nature of Home (2002), explore “how one perceives or knows an interior place, how one might be changed by being within, how being within informs one’s experience of being without.” The author recalls how small towns in Nebraska and Iowa pulsed to the beat of the railroad, not just because it employed thousands of locals, like her father, but because the very names emblazoned on those “Chinese-red boxcars” were transporting: the Peoria and Oquawka, the Central Military Tract, the Aurora Branch and the Northern Cross, which all later merged to become the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy (CB&Q), which gathered in the Great Northern, the Northern Pacific and the Spokane, Portland and Seattle to become the Burlington Northern, in 1970 the longest train line in the country. The demure Midwest has much to offer, Knopp reminds us: somnolent afternoons when piano playing drifts out a window, the ache of being fired from factory work, the lazy beauty of western Iowa’s Loess Hills, the poisoning of land, water and workers by the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant. “Everything in the landscape is attached to a story which in turn is attached to another story and another,” she swoons, sharing with us tales of Native Americans, Mark Twain, her Granny and many other family members. Rapt observer, botanist, birder and chronicler of the human condition, Knopp is also, in the best literary tradition, a wanderer of lingering curiosity.
Elegiac, soulful and discerning.