Turk travels the back roads of 36 states in search of “the living story of rural America.”
The author, a former educational leadership professor at Wichita State University, follows in the footsteps of such luminaries as Charles Kuralt and William Least Heat-Moon in this sometimes-engaging, if repetitive, account of 16 months of travels around the back roads of America with Mo, his golden retriever. He comes from a farming family, and he set out to chronicle “the living story of rural America” by interviewing people he encountered on the road. “If our family history is connected by stories,” then the “history of rural America is linked by the stories of their residents,” he writes. Rural America, of course, has been undergoing profound social and economic change, as Turk notes—“Today, three out four rural counties no longer depend on agriculture as their primary economic base”—and his stories of more than 100 people provide a window into that transformation. “American Falls is dying off,” lamented a resident of that small, southeast Idaho town, while an interviewee in Osage, Missouri, said that the only businesses left in town were mostly “antique stores....We don’t have anything anymore.” In Buena Vista, Virginia, an old-timer said that the loss of businesses and other changes “have made it difficult to promote our legacy as an old town of the South.” Even so, Turk doesn’t excessively dwell on the negative, as he also extols the community spirit of small-town America and uncovers such success stories as Las Vegas, New Mexico, a once “semi-segregated” community where a Hispanic resident told him, “I never thought forty years ago [that] an Anglo would be asking me my opinion on anything.” He also enlivens the text with the imaginary musings of his dog, Mo, such as, “I am so bored that I do not even want to ask for a dawg bone.” Readers, though, may experience a similar emotion, as the author doesn’t have the prose skills to really bring characters he meets to life, resulting in an often monotonous portrait of rural America. However, he has, at the very least, provided a worthwhile contribution to making that part of America “recognizable to future generations.”
This book is more of a monochromatic mural than a multicolored tapestry, but it still captures the effects of social change on rural communities.