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Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere: A Memoir Paperback – September 3, 2013

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 282 pages
  • Publisher: Hawthorne Books (September 3, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 098347754X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0983477549
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #135,384 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

This might be the most poetic title ever attached to a true-crime book, but this is no ordinary true-crime book. The author’s neighbor, a college math professor, disappeared, and his mutilated body was found three months later. Ballantine felt compelled to write about the murder, but the book is much more than the story of a crime. It’s also a very personal story, about Ballantine’s own life (like the victim, Ballantine was depressed and had contemplated suicide), his marriage, the challenges of raising his autistic son, his affection for his small Nebraska town and its people (a town, much like the author at the beginning of the book, used up and “politely hanging on”). Ballantine has written a lot of smaller pieces, fiction and nonfiction, and a couple of novels that have garnered him an enthusiastic following; this exquisitely crafted and deeply moving book should appeal to a wider audience, if they are steered in its direction. --David Pitt


Poe Ballantine is brilliant, sensitive, unique, and universal. Reading his work is inspiring, agitating, and invigorating. He is utterly transparent on the page, a rare thing. He's like a bird that's almost but not quite extinct. This is his best book ever. — Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild

Poe Ballantine’s prose cuts right to the bone (the one that’s stuck in America’s throat), but manages to preserve not only the sweetest meat but the barbecue sauce, as well. Mark Twain would have admired his wit, and had Oscar Wilde read him, he would have bought an old Ford pickup and moved to Nebraska the day he got out of the slammer, hoping that some of his style rubbed off on him. A book without style is like a swan without feathers—it’s just another plucked chicken—but this new one of Ballantine’s is in its funky way majestic as it zigzags downstream. Poe Ballantine is the most soulful, insightful, funny, and altogether luminous "under-known" writer in America. He knocks my socks off, even when I’m barefoot. — Tom Robbins, author of Villa Incognito

Ballantine’s writing is secure insecurity at its best, muscular and minimal, self-deprecating on the one hand, full of the self’s soul on the other.” — Lauren Slater, Lying

If the delights of either Poe Ballantine or Chadron, Nebraska were a secret, that is over now. Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere is an unprecedented combination of all of the following: true crime page-turner, violently funny portrait of a tiny Western town, field guide to saving a bilingual marriage and raising an autistic child, sutra on living with open mind and big heart. Many of the sentences start on earth and end somewhere in beat-poet heaven. Ballantine comes ever closer to being my favorite creative nonfiction writer and this is why. — Marion Winik, Above Us Only Sky. The Glen Rock Book of the Dead and NPR correspondent

Book club pick for Rumpus book club August, 2103

Poe Ballantine essay included in 2013 Best American Essays out 10/1/13.

Poe Ballantine essay included in 2013 New California Writing out 4/15/13.

Praise for 501 Minutes to Christ:

Name author we all need to read? Poe Ballantine’s exquisitely funky 501 Minutes to Christ. — Tom Robbins, author of Jitterbug Perfume

Ballantine is never far from the trenches . . . the essays are readable and entertaining and contain occasional moments of startling beauty and insight. Still, the themes of addiction (to substances, people, new starts, the prospect of fame), dissatisfaction, and nihilism may limit the work’s appeal; as with writers such as Chuck Palahniuk, some will become rabid devotees, while others will be turned off. — Library Journal

Praise for Decline of the Lawrence Welk Empire:

It’s a downmarket version of Ben Kunkel’s Indecision, with less surety but real vibrancy. — Publishers Weekly

No matter if you didn’t catch the first book. Or if fiction about young guys who drink themselves pie-eyed every night, and lust after each other’s girlfriends is not your favorite genre. Ballantine’s genial, reckless narrator is part Huck Finn, part Hunter S. Thompson. And in a few pages he’s charming you, more than any “pot-smoking, card-playing, music-loving, late night party hound” really should. — The Seattle Times

This second novel from Ballantine initially conjures images of Lord of the Flies, but then you would have to add about ten years to the protagonists’ ages and make them sex-crazed, gold-seeking alcoholics. — Library Journal

Poe Ballantine, in this sequel to God Clobbers Us All, reveals that he is a writer with a keen ear and a blistering wit … it’s a prime opportunity to observe a writer’s joyful wallow in the decadence of words. — The Austin Chronicle

Edgar’s supersize pal Mountain is the best of the author’s creations: “He possesses a merry and absurd sweetness . . . combined with a body mass that can block out the sun.” — Booklist

Ballantine’s second novel is . . . memorable . . . funny and smart, and rarely boring. — Philadelphia Weekly

Decline of the Lawrence Welk Empire has the same amped tone and subtropical setting as Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary but less of the gonzo arrogance and more of that good ol’ American angst.

Fans will remember Edgar from Ballantine’s first novel, God Clobbers Us All, and will again be rewarded with the self-effacing character also visible in his inimitable essays in The Sun magazine. The prose is poised on the brink of perfection, and the plot twists into an unexpected yet perfect conclusion that makes scotch and roadkill seem almost palatable. — San Francisco Bay Guardian

Praise for God Clobbers Us All:

It’s impossible not to be charmed by the narrator of Poe Ballantine’s comic and sparklingly intelligent God Clobbers Us All. — Publishers Weekly

Ballantine’s novel is an entertaining coming-of-age story. — San Francisco Chronicle

A surfer dude transforms into someone captivatingly fragile, and Ballantine’s novel becomes something tender, vulnerable, even sweet without that sickly, cloying literary aftertaste. This vulnerability separates Ballantine’s work from his chosen peers. Calmer than Bukowski, less portentous than Kerouac, more hopeful than West, Poe Ballantine may not be sitting at the table of his mentors, but perhaps he deserves his own after all. — The San Diego Union-Tribune

It’s a compelling, quirky read. — The Oregonian

Poe Ballantine has created an extremely fast page-turner. Edgar, in first-person narrative, is instantly likeable, and his constant misadventures flow seamlessly. Partially analyzed daydreams hint at an intriguing adolescent intellect without rambling on into psychological overkill. Ballantine paints southern California with voluptuous detail. Green suns, kaleidoscopic blue eyes, yellow moons and other Lucky Charms marshmallows decorate Edgar’s acid-tinged world with an effect more tangible than psychedelic. The blank gloom of the hospital and the florid ‘70s California coast serve as the arena for this initiation into adulthood. — Willamette Week

God Clobbers Us All succeed[s] on the strength of its characterization and Ballantine’s appreciation for the true-life denizens of the Lemon Acres rest home. The gritty daily details of occupants of a home for the dying have a stark vibrancy that cannot help but grab one’s attention, and the off-hours drug, surf, and screw obsessions of its young narrator, Edgar Donahoe, and his coworkers have a genuine sheen that captivates almost as effectively. — The Absinthe Literary Review

A wry and ergoty experience. — Gobshite Quarterly

That the resulting melange of a plot draws the reader’s attention from the first page and leaves one wanting more is a tribute to a storyteller with a keen sense of irony, a precise power of observation, a deep understanding of psychology, and a lyrical command of language … It’s not just an eccentric plot that keeps God Clobbers Us All afloat, though. Ballantine’s prose carries metaphorical powers that make a day of mediocre surfing into a symphony, soften even the harsh indignity of an unintended nursing home death, and illuminate the distorted reality of psychedelic hallucination. — The Chadron Record

Ballantine pulls no punches as he writes about Edgar’s life in the 1970s. But even though his sexual and drug-related stories are graphic, they are not disturbing. He has a way with words, and this story takes on a life of its own. It’s easy to get involved in the story after page three. After page three, you’re hooked; it’s that simple. — Book Review Cafe

Praise for Things I Like About America:

Ballantine never shrinks from taking us along for the drunken, drug-infested ride he braves in most of his travels. The payoff – and there is one – lies in his self-deprecating humor and acerbic social commentary, which he leaves us with before heading further up the dark highway. — The Indy Bookshelf

In Ballantine’s world, the trip between a joyful guffaw and overwhelming hopelessness takes the blink of a well-turned sentence. It doesn’t seem to matter what our particular take on life is; the stories teem with such substantial realism and human interest that we have no choice but to disregard our individual dispositions and get on the bus for the next disappointing town, the next rainy bus stop … The stories are well worth the price of admission. — The Absinthe Literary Review

Part social commentary, part collective biography, this guided tour may not be comfortable, but one thing’s for sure: You will be at home. — Willamette Week

Meet the new guide on the lonesome highway. Poe Ballantine’s wry voice, clear eye, hilarious accounts and lyrical language bring us up short by reminding us that America has always been about flight, and for most of its citizens it has been about defeat. His wanderings, drifters, bad motels, cheap wine, dead-end jobs and drugs take us home, the home Betty Crocker never lived in. We’re on the road again, but this time we know better than to hope for a rumbling V-8 and any answers blowing in the wind. The bus has been a long time coming, but thank God it has arrived with Mr. Ballantine aboard. Sit down, give him a listen and make your own list of Things I Like About America. — Charles Bowden, author of Blues for Cannibals and Blood Orchid

Poe Ballantine reminds us that in a country full of identical strip malls and chain restaurants, there’s still room for adventure. He finds the humor in...

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Customer Reviews

I thought this book was well written and kept me glued until the end.
Loved Ballantine's voice in this....such a great sense of humor....held my interest throughout... Looking for other books by Ballantine now!
Nancy B. Fischer
There are wonderful things that can happen to us, and there are terrible things as well.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By K. Covert on June 24, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I discovered Poe when I stumbled across his essay collections 101 Minutes to Christ and Things I Like About America which I found beautifully written yet refreshingly unpretentious. I then devoured both of his fiction books. This novel, a non-fiction in the form of a long narrative is a great combination of everything I like about Poe. There's a page turner crime mystery in here, but its surrounded by the kind of careful relatable prose that makes me want to savoir every chapter. I was so happy to receive my pre-ordered copy early by some mistake :)

I've also recently read Give Me Everything You Have by James Ludson (which I loved but this is definately better) and I worry this book could be misunderstood in the same way that great work was (check out the mixed reviews there). This is a story about a crime, but what I love about it is that Poe (as Ludson did) recognizes that he is embedded in the story and the only true perspective he can give is his own. This makes the book a memior and a practice in self-reflection, not just an exploitive book to be read for juicy details. Poe writes brilliantly about his family life and his relationship to the town of Chadron from the point of view of someone who lived so many years without a home. He also relates to and wonders about the missing man. I'm sure there are true crime books out there with all the horrid details, read this if you want a crime novel that uses a crime to reflect on the human condition in a poetic yet very accessible way.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By James Fernandez on July 4, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
People say you can really get to know someone by travelling with them. It's on the road, exposed and probably lost that a person's true nature gets revealed. I've had the pleasure of travelling with Poe Ballantine for over a decade now. He's told me about the Things he Likes About America, what happens when God Clobbers Us All, how The Decline of The Lawrence Welk Empire happened and what it feels like to be 501 Minutes from Christ.
Along the way I've learned from him if not how to navigate this world as somewhat of a loner looking for the words to describe what I see, then at least that it can be done on a budget. Ballantine has taken the dreams of those who played it safe and lived them out one motel room at a time, fearlessly taking all these confused thoughts that challenge the confidence of anyone who ever wandered off by foot or thought and lights them off like the night sky on the Fourth of July for anyone who cares to look. The life he's lived is uniquely his own but he sprinkles the trail with crumbs for his readers to follow if we dare
In Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere, Ballantine turns his road sharpened eye on the little northwestern Nebraska town that somehow saved him from himself, the wife he brought there from Mexico, the absolutely charming son they have together, the struggles of marriage and what happens when a sleepy little town gets rocked by a death that no one can explain or understand.
It's not a true crime work of non-fiction as much as an exploration of the entire American experience. Birth, love, struggle, loss, redemption, situations that leave more questions than answers and death are touched upon with a tenderness and compassion that pours from the pages and can only come from someone who isn't afraid of what he may find when he or she digs deep to try to understand them all.
Buy this book. Buy all of his books. Let him show you for himself.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By PulletSurprise on June 17, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a memoir about the beauty and sadness of life. There are wonderful things that can happen to us, and there are terrible things as well. After a lifetime of restlessness and living without a sense of meaning, Poe Ballantine marries and has a son. He is living in the small town of Chadron, Nebraska, working as a writer. His marriage and being a father, as well as the friendships he forms in this small town, give him a sense of permanence which has been missing his entire life. The marriage and fatherhood are filled with challenges, but there is love ignited in the author that gives him a deeper sense of purpose than his younger days of constant change.
While Poe is living in Chadron, there is a professor at the college who disappears and then is found dead. His body is found burned out on the plains outside of town. Since Chadron, Nebraska is such a small town, many people knew the professor who was found dead, and there is much debate as to how he died. The mystery of this death as to whether it was a suicide or murder is the subject of Poe's memoir, as well his reflections on his own life. Throughout the memoir, Poe brings to life the people he encounters in this small town, and you are left with the feeling that all of us are struggling with the mystery of our own lives.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Steve Taylor on February 13, 2014
Format: Paperback
I wholly admit to being a fan of Poe Ballantine's writing, and that can be a dangerous thing when reviewing a new book, but thankfully this novel receives 5 honest stars on its merits alone without considering past works. This is a very intriguing story/mystery that gets told from an author shooting straight from the hip and pulling no punches. Poe's wonderings on his life up to this point at the start of the book should surely encourage any first time readers of his work to seek out earlier books too. But I'm getting away from the point a bit there...
'Love and Terror' explores the strange death of the professor as thoroughly as possible and, while not being able to deliver an answer to what exactly happened or who was ultimately involved, Poe's unique style of writing keeps you gripped throughout. The book gets very personal at times, and why not? It is also a memoir after all. I certainly wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book and am already looking forward to his next offering. Keep 'em coming Poe!
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