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THE RURAL LIFE by Verlyn Klinkenborg Kirkus Star


by Verlyn Klinkenborg

Pub Date: Dec. 2nd, 2002
ISBN: 0-316-74167-1
Publisher: Little, Brown

From the New York Times writer (The Last Fine Time, 1990) and editorial-board member, a gathering of pieces that have appeared over the years (mainly in the Times) quilted into a single year, a chapter a month. Result: captivating, subtle, and splendid.

Times readers will have the special treat of familiar essays, like bumping unexpectedly into a friend in some far-away place: here are the pieces, for example, about the Colorado blizzard and awful school bus disaster of 1931; the summer of rain and humidity (“It’s been like living under a rhubarb leaf”); even pigs (“I’ve been thinking about raising pigs. Ask anyone who knows me”). Klinkenborg really is a Thoreau for today, complete with classic upside-downings (“My plan in buying this small farm wasn’t to tutor the pasture and the sugar maples and the hemlocks. I hoped instead to let the landscape tutor me, to lie fallow for a while myself”) and metaphors that give as much pleasure (and meaning) as their subjects themselves: the Wyoming grasshoppers, for example, that find the morning sun, “where they wait until they’re fully charged, ready to go off,” or the simple observation (“October”) that “the sun has made its way southward like the fox that crosses the pasture most evenings.” The biggest pleasure, though, is Klinkenborg’s gradual sculpting of this whole philosophical year, beginning always with simple observations of place, work, and weather, chipping away until nothing’s left at the end but something perfect. Now and again a factoid will be left in—about father, wife, boyhood in Iowa—as if just to give us a tiny glimpse of this person whose voice we hear talking. Holidays get their brief, perfected, ruminative moments (“Memorial Day is the porch before the house of summer”), as do other enormous subjects, including the universe, WWI, and the World Trade Center.

Nonfiction storytelling at its highest: unflaggingly lovely, with scope, profundity, and power achieved through a mastering of the delicate.