PRAIRYERTH by William Least Heat-Moon


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 The long-awaited return of Heat-Moon, whose bestselling Blue Highways (1983) ranged far and wide on the byways of America, offers a memorable view of the American heartland--in the form of a splendid survey/view of a single Kansas county, the location of the last remaining expanse of tall-grass prairie. Through hundreds of vignettes and thumbnail sketches, constituting a meticulous examination of the hills and households of rural Chase County, Heat-Moon lays down a fascinating grid of interlocking experiences gathered over a five-year period. Each section of the book starts with materials from the author's ``commonplace book,'' in which relevant passages taken from 19th- and 20th-century ruminations on the American West and Kansas prepare the thematic ground for the material to follow. Facts, observations, chance encounters, and personal detail intermingle superbly in a unique travelogue, as both the ``countians'' and the many facets of their world are revealed and transformed by gentle metaphysical speculations. Feminist cafÇ-owners and retired limestone cutters give of themselves in their own words, while discussions of prairie soil and Osage oranges, recent native history, and distant geologic events enrich the human connections. One samples these offerings as easily as one might ramble through the stacks of a well-stocked, highly personalized library, effortlessly acquiring in the process more information than seems possible about the American experience. Rewarding and restless, evocative in its parts and deeply resonant as a whole, this is a strong successor to Blue Highways, establishing Heat-Moon as a master chronicler in the grand tradition. (Maps and drawings.)

Pub Date: Oct. 23rd, 1991
ISBN: 0-395-48602-5
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1991


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