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By the Iowa Sea: A Memoir Hardcover – March 6, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (March 6, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451636059
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451636055
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 6.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #370,838 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“An intimate, startling memoir that honors and elevates our quotidian existence. With his contagious curiosity as to what drives him and what holds him back, Blair writes fearlessly and beautifully about the family he loves and also betrays, the people he treasures and plots to escape from. By The Iowa Sea is funny and unsettling, painful and rock and roll romantic, and it has the invigorating ring of truth on every page.”
--Scott Spencer, author of Endless Love and Man in the Woods

"Joe Blair portrays family life and his own emotional life with tremendous courage and a searing honesty. I admired the prose and the story as I read. I finished the book admiring the man.”
--Chris Offutt, author of The Same River Twice

“By the Iowa Sea is a sometimes angry, often startling, and always riveting journey through infidelity, drinking, storms, work, beauty, and the simultaneous frustration and sublimity of raising a disabled child. Blair's writing is vivid, his subjects are heartbreaking, and his ending is flat-out gorgeous.”
--Anthony Doerr, author of Memory Wall

“Joe Blair’s voice is uncommonly perceptive, startlingly honest, and powerfully moving. This is eloquence born of pain, sharpened by humor, and burnished, finally, by understanding and redemption.”
--Ethan Canin, author of Emperor of the Air and America, America

“Blair’s thoughtful memoir displays the strengths and resilience of committed lovers in a tumultuous relationship.”
--Publishers Weekly

By the Iowa Sea is a vivid, sometimes stark but gorgeously developed snapshot of love in perilous times. I think we've found our next John Updike in Joe Blair.”
--Julie Zickefoose, author of Letters From Eden: A Year at Home, In the Woods and The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds

“A devastating flood provides the backdrop for Joe Blair's moving memoir about crisis and change. If you want to understand how a good man can resolve the conflict between his youthful dreams and his adult sense of duty, read this book. His honesty about the real challenges of marriage and parenting is startling in the best sense, and shot through with refreshing humor.”

--Julie Metz, author of The New York Times bestselling memoir, Perfection

“Joe Blair's passion and courage are evident on each page of By the Iowa Sea. He is among those rare writers brave enough to risk everything for his work and the result is this hypnotic, electrifying book.”

--Alexander Maksik, author of You Deserve Nothing

“Joe Blair writes with uncommon openness and pain about the pleasures and difficulties of marriage. He also conjures the beauty of the Iowa landscape--even under water. By the Iowa Sea includes one of the most touchingly funny sex scenes--or should I say--non-sex scenes I’ve read. I am sure women and men will respond to his voice.”

--Anne Taylor Fleming, author of Marriage: A Duet and As If Love Were Enough

"Blair put away his motorcycle and his dreams to do manual labor while supporting four children, one of whom is autistic. Rekindling a sense of purpose took something big: a terrible flood. Not a whiny work; fresh, plain-spoken, and down to earth. Definitely try."
--Library Journal


"A beautifully written story about marriage, responisbility and caring for an autistic child."
--Bookpage

“Some memoirs you read for the feelings they inspire, and some you read to find out how in the heck they’ll turn out. By the Iowa Sea manages to do both with an understanding of so-called ordinary life so raw and true you’ll gasp, and a situation so pressing you’ll tear through the pages. The writer’s unflinching reflection about himself and his choices make this book.”

--Oprah.com

A memoirist with a poet’s soul, [Blair] takes what is arguably the most mercilessly exploited natural resource in all of literature and replenishes it. Blair has an autistic son, Michael…and it is their love story, more than that between Blair and his wife, that lends the tempest and its longed-for destructiveness their emotional valence, and this memoir its observational virtuosity.”

--New York Times Book Review

About the Author

Joe Blair is a pipefitter living in Coralville, Iowa with his wife and four children. His essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Iowa Review.

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Customer Reviews

This book reads itself.
Joey Blair
It focused very little on the flood that wreaked havoc on so many lives and instead repeately discussed (over and over again) how unhappy he was and his infidelity.
Lizzie
I thought the story was poignant, thoughtful, touching, and very real.
Marianne

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Timothy J. Bazzett on May 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Hoo, boy! Where to even begin trying to describe BY THE IOWA SEA? I believe that Joe Blair's memoir will be a rather controversial book. But here's my two cents' worth. This is a very powerful book. I had trouble putting it down, which is good. But I felt like a voyeur, and I'm not quite sure yet if that's good or bad.

BY THE IOWA SEA is perhaps the most utterly human and nakedly candid look at a marriage as any I have ever read. I started to call it a "troubled" marriage, but then I decided I didn't want to pigeonhole it in any way. Sure Joe and Deb Blair have got their troubles after eighteen or twenty years of marriage, but doesn't everyone? Doesn't that first flame of passion fade for most married folks after that many years - hell, even sooner for many? And the Blair marriage is made even more difficult and problematic by their having to deal with a severely autistic son. And Joe Blair's descriptions of what that entails hold nothing back. Yeah, they have some outside help, with various therapies, special schools and respite workers, but the truth is - and both Joe and Deb are all too aware of this - having an autistic child is kind of a life sentence.

Joe Blair is a pipefitter. He's the HVAC guy that comes to fix your furnace or boiler or air conditioning system. The 'plumber's crack' is never specifically mentioned, but judging from some of the contortions needed for the jobs described, it must show up now and then. But, fortunately for us, Blair is also one hell of a fine writer. There's nothing fancy or artsy-fartsy in his writing. It's plain, direct language, used to its full effect.

Joe misses his wife, Deb - the go-for-it girl she was when he met her back at UMass Lowell.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Robert Taylor Brewer on March 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover
What's happening in American letters is a good thing. William Gay, who died last week, was part of it. Some American writers have left the classroom, the MFA workshop, and gone out into the country. Mr. Gay worked as a carpenter and painter yet his writing was published in top literary magazines like The Georgia Review. Screenwriters adapted his novel for the movie Bloodworth. He was once asked "do you have someone who works with you...who takes out the little words and puts in the big ones?"

Joe Blair is in the same tradition of non academic writers. He's a pipefitter by trade. His new book By The Iowa Sea is informed by the mechanics of what he does for a living. He has his customers. His wife Deb has her jealousies, as in
"What did you do for her?"
"I was fixing her boiler."
They argue.
"Why don't you stand up and be.."
"A man? You mean someone who kisses your ass 24 hours a day?"

Like the thunder and the Iowa rain he chronicles, the storm passes but is not forgotten. Instead it gets assimilated into a larger tapestry of American towns that have lost jobs, along with their Main Streets and storefronts that are now shuttered. Children arrive; Deb and Joe trade in their Kawasakis for a minivan, their camping tents for a house that, in short order, becomes "a stone around our necks." Enter Pamela, and it's with this new form of competition that a metamorphasis overtakes Deb. The dialog attributed to her is heroic. Regardless of what happens in the relationship as riveting as it is enigmatic, you begin to read slowly and carefully because this is writing that clings, holds you snugly and steadfastly, in the manner a pipe fitter knows.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Peter Baklava on March 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover
"And Laura's asleep in my bed
As I'm leaving she wakes up and says,
I dreamed you were carried away on the crest of a wave.
Baby, don't go away"

"Landlocked Blues", Bright Eyes

Joe Blair's memoir, "By the Iowa Sea", features a jacket photograph of a spectacularly dark shelf cloud, the kind that only the most intrepid stormchasers would deliberately head into.

There's no such drama inside the cover. In this laconic and leanly written book, the clouds and the resultant flood that wreaked havoc in Iowa in 2008 are a back-drop, a simple metaphor for a marriage that threatens to crack apart. Joe, who is a pretty solid guy married to a levelheaded wife, details his half-hearted and comic attempts to spice up his marital life, even as he stumbles and dives into a passionate but shortlived affair with a neurotic local writer named Pamela.

Better are the heartfelt descriptions of the emotional rollercoaster entailed in dealing with his very autistic ten-year-old son, Michael. Sketches of shortlived getaways into the small pleasures of woods and improvised role-playing games with his children are also rewarding reading. But in the end this narrative is stretched pretty thin, and despite the mostly surefooted writing, I found myself wishing that maybe Blair had attempted a book of short stories instead.

A nice debut, nevertheless.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Melanie on April 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I ordered the book, By The Iowa Sea, after listening to Joe Blair's podcast on The Nervous Breakdown. We also have a son named Michael with autism. I flew through the book and read it in one weekend. I enjoyed Blair's prose and thoughts about marriage and parenting and life with an autistic son.It was like looking in a mirror and so it blessed my soul to know we are not alone. The road to parenting a child with autism is a long one and so I can relate to his thoughts about living life in a kind of autopilot function.This becomes necessary. It happens even as you struggle for it not to.He says "It is as though I have been in and out of sleep for years and years." The flood that changed this couple's life was the catalyst for a life change that seemingly woke him up. There are many lovely sections about the beauty in being present, something that an autistic child can teach you.Families with disabled children know about love."This is how love works. I ultimately found this book to be a hopeful book in it's outlook, even if we can't control our futures. If I had written a memoir, it would read exactly as this one, but with a better soundtrack.
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