STORM COUNTRY

A JOURNEY THROUGH THE HEART OF AMERICA

America's Great Plains—as seen through a glass darkly. In 1990, as British novelist Davies (Dollarville, 1989) cruised mid-America in an old Ford pickup, he might have crossed paths with Dayton Duncan, who was exploring roughly the same area in a GMC Suburban, preparing to report on his trip in Miles from Nowhere (p. 345). But the Briton and the Yankee found two very different countries. While Duncan took as his metaphor the land's vast emptiness, Davies takes as his its raging storms, particularly its numerous tornadoes, magnificent but deadly. And unlike Duncan's approach—respectful, even reverent, with deep delving into the region's history—Davies's take is sassy, sharp, and alienated, with little attention to the past: ``I was back in the heart of America now....It's the nearest thing I know to going to the moon- -and I love it.'' But does he really? No doubt Davies is in awe of the Midwest and its wild weather—his strongest passages here, crackling with energy, describe storms he evaded or chased—but he finds much to criticize harshly as well, from missile bases to racism (particularly against Native Americans, a theme that dominates the many—and filler-dull—pages detailing his visit to the South Dakota set of the film Thunderheart) to drunks and fools (about two Utah motel-owners: ``I'm talking a comedy double act of congenital idiots here, a short and shapeless mother and daughter, both lank of hair, slack of lip, stale of odor''). Throughout, one senses that although Davies looks with gusto at all the right places—a baseball game, a rodeo, a buffalo herd, a dance, a classic diner, and so on—he sees only America's surface, never its beating heart. Lively but not revealing—for that, see the Duncan or Ian Frazier's Great Plains (1989).

Pub Date: May 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-679-40885-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1993

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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