This debut memoir offers a boy’s adventures in northern Minnesota from the wake of the Great Depression to the aftermath of World War II.
Slayback describes a hardscrabble childhood on the Minnesota Iron Range, on his way to eventual success as a lawyer in California. He competently narrates clear, brief recollections of important events, including his mother dying in a truck accident in 1939 and being scalded by a kettle and surviving a rooster attack as a boy. He also writes about his stay in a Duluth orphanage at age 9 and a brief adventure when he ran away to Minneapolis at 14, among other tales. Plainspoken, with an eye for significant historical detail, the author does a fine job describing the trials of youth, relating a time when beer cost five cents and a movie 15 cents, and wartime ration books determined what commodities a family could buy. The author’s almost incantatory naming of towns—Moose Lake, Sturgeon Lake, Finland, Twin Harbors, Duluth—bespeaks his yearning for “the only place I’d ever call home.” Regrettably, the author’s keen attention to detail is not matched by an ability to extract larger meaning, and his efforts to do so often feel forced: “Home is a place of roots, a place of identity, a place of belonging; a place that fosters values, manners, gives encouragement and love; a place where you can recharge your battery, receive guidance, understanding, and get straight answers on how to survive in the world.” Nonetheless, the author’s attention to history—from the xenophobia of small towns, in which only those of Finnish or Scandinavian descent were allowed to teach school, to details on the construction of Viking ships or the social significance of newsboys—makes this a useful primary document for historians.
A detailed record of one boy’s difficult journey to adulthood, which may interest aficionados of northern Minnesota life.