OVERSTORY: ZERO by Robert Leo Heilman


Real Life in the Timber Country of Oregon
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 A small-town Oregonian glorifies rural life, hisses at higher education, and ponders his existence as writer and community activist in this collection of platitude-laden essays. Heilman, a National Public Radio commentator, is best when describing various low-paying, back-breaking forestry jobs and the conflicts between environmentalists and supporters of the timber industry. He rightly condemns extremists in both camps. His depiction of an economically depressed community is well balanced and sensitive, and he draws an interesting correlation between the decay of small-town community spirit and the demise of amateur baseball. Elsewhere, unfortunately, Heilman chooses to play anti- intellectual in celebration of the bucolic: ``My background has given me an understandable, perhaps unavoidable, belief that blue- collar workers are generally better people than white-collar workers and professionals.'' And in discussing college-educated bosses he writes, ``I found them to be oddly incompetent and overly self-conscious.'' His working-class-hero soliloquies are punctuated by frequent and banal musings on writing and boastful episodes in which he reveals that his SAT scores ranked in the top percentile, that he alone could find a rapport with a young retarded boy at a Head Start class, that he can dive from 40 feet, and that in issues of human understanding in general, his vision is far less clouded than that of a sociologist friend of his. Possessing an incurable fondness for metaphor and an irritating habit of personifying animalsgeese, buzzards, salmon, and squirrelswhenever they wander into his intellectual purview, Heilman affixes a maudlin poetry to all aspects of the natural world, refusing to rescue his book from his own egotistical clutches. Ultimately, Heilman's gushy, epiphanic observations of life from the backcountry effectively smother any early traces of cogency in this literary morass.

Pub Date: Sept. 8th, 1995
ISBN: 1-57061-037-1
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Sasquatch
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1995