Customer Reviews: The Horizontal World: Growing Up Wild In the Middle of Nowhere
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on September 7, 2006
This terrific collection of personal essays is part memoir, part social history, and part appreciation for the lunar topography of the author's home state, North Dakota, where reminders of its geological past are everywhere in the flat expanse of inland seafloor, the rolling terrain of glacial morrain, and the rocks that surface each year in the fields and need to be cleared by hand. Marquart, descendant of German-speaking immigrants from Russia, tells of the generations of her family, who have farmed the same homestead since the late 19th century. Born the last of five siblings, she grows up driving tractors and pickups and doing chores from an early age, while yearning, always yearning, for escape - life being ever elsewhere.

With a career as a singer for a heavy metal band behind her and currently teaching creative writing at Iowa State, she looks back over the years, aware that her identity is still linked to her roots "in the middle of nowhere" and to a family that cannot comprehend any of the life she has lived since she left home. Most poignant are her memories of her father, whose funeral begins the book, while an episode on an out-of-state trip with both elderly parents ("To Kill a Deer") is a groaningly hilarious tribute to the impossibility of communicating across generations. Other subjects covered are the special trials of growing up female in a farming community, including the imagined trauma of being among its first settlers from the Old Country, as well as the tenuous self-esteem of North Dakotans whose most well-known celebrity is Lawrence Welk.

Marquart is a fine, entertaining, and moving writer, an eloquent voice for the diminishing number of those who grew up on small family farms on the Great Plains. Also recommended: Judy Blunt, "Breaking Clean"; Kathleen Norris, "Dakota"; Bobbie Ann Mason, "Clear Springs"; and Kent Meyers, "Light in the Crossing."
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VINE VOICEon August 22, 2006
Here's your chance to find out about life in a rural town in the most rural state of the lower 48 from farm girl turned rebel turned academic turned author Debra Marquat. A descendant of German-Russian farmers, she grew up as your typical, albeit unusual for that area, rebellious, farm girl. Through excerpts from other works and a series of ordinary but interesting anecdotes, she enlightens the reader with facts about her native state, her ancestors, farmers, farm life and family - from the lengths folks will go to in order to keep land in the family; to the monotony of farm chores; to "the horizontal life," to an unfortunate encounter with a deer and the predictable aftermath; to a father's failing heart, death, and funeral; to a hundred other details that will ring true to anyone who has spent time in a rural area in that part of the country. Although one may question the her choice to include information about her sex life in a book which will undoubtedly be read by conservative farmer-types, and her decision not rush home to see her dying father, she freely admits to being a rebel and never professes to always do the right thing. The references to and inclusion of text from various works of fiction and non-fiction are sometimes welcome, but more often detract from the pleasant flow of her writing, although probably highlight her "academic" side. A comparison of her great grandfather to "land-hungry father Larry Cook" - from A Thousand Acres, when readers of it will remember his big secret, sticks in my mind as particularly distracting.
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on November 9, 2006
This is the most engaging book I've read in several years. Written with all the power that could be expected of an Iowa Writers Program Professor, it tells it's own story while exposing the desperate truths of all who've violently wrenched themselves out of home ground to find a life that fit. Blunt, funny, ironic and wry, its bravely openhearted look at a younger self made me look clearly at my own 20-year-old self, that I've disowned for over 35 years, and invite her back in.
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on August 24, 2012
North Dakota is a land of extremes. Extreme cold weather in the winter, with snow piled high. Extreme hot and humid weather in summer with a sea of praire grass and crops blowing in the wind. North Dakota is inhabited by hearty people who are drawn to the land and landscape. Not everyone can survive here.

Debra Marquart was born in North Dakota and raised on a farm that has passed through four generations. Beginning with her great grandfather who emigrated from Russia in the late 1800's, to Deb's brother who currently owns it, the farm has an undeniable pull on the Marquart family. Yet from an early age Deb had plans to escape the farm and the rural ways of life and planned to be a city girl. Milking cows early every morning, driving the tractor, planting corn, all of it hard work. She yearned for more and as she read books to escape her daily reality, she made plans to leave.

Marquart's memoir is a tale of leaving home and her struggle to retrieve the sense of self she gets from the land we call North Dakota. Marquart includes her personal family history and their inherent and meaningful ties to the land. She includes the history and geography of the land we call North Dakota. You will laugh and cry along with Marquart and try to figure out how you are related after reading The Horizontal World.

North Dakota is the land of farmers and lonely oil boom workers, sunflower fields, beautiful buttes and the stunning Killdeer mountains and canyons. I have lived in Minnesota all my life and never visited North Dakota until this year. I read Marquart's book as a way to become familiar with a place I've never been to and to understand it's people and history and I am so glad I did. Being a midwestern girl myself and spending summers on my grandfathers Wisconsin farm, I could relate to so much of Marquart's life in the middle of nowhere. I remember plucking chickens and milking cows and smelling like manure most of the time and I couldn't wait to leave. As an adult who now lives in the city, I cherish my time on the farm and it seems like it is always calling my name and reminding me of my connection to the land I love.

The Horizontal World captures the essence of the people, the place and the land of North Dakota.
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on February 28, 2012
DM certainly can write, no doubt about it, and it was the quality of her writing that propelled me forward. I wondered throughout if autobiographical authors realize how much of themselves they actually reveal when they take on an adventure like this. Her angst is written into every word. For me this book was a sad tragedy, the tale of a girl/woman who wanted to escape a place I consider to be one of the most beautiful places in the United States. I'm not quite sure what I make of her story, her relationship to place and her people, but (again) she sure can write.
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on July 23, 2013
If you grew up in the 60's and 70's on the prairies, in a small town, you will identify with the writer and find this interesting. It brought back memories of high school in my own youth and I enjoyed this book.
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on December 7, 2006
As someone who grew up in the middle of nowhere I can attest to the fact that Debra Marquart's writing is spot on. She describes a very specific subculture of the U.S. (i.e., the upper Midwest) with humor, grace and uncanny truth. She gives voice to a kind of life that is rarely spoken of by those who have endured it. Her insights made me alternately crumple on the floor in tears and laugh out loud shouting "Yes!" Simply put, she gets it right. To top that, she's done her research, too; she mixes lots of interesting background information with excellent storytelling. I am giving this to all my exiled Midwestern friends for Christmas!
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on October 21, 2012
The writing style wasn't my favorite, but it was good writing, and an interesting story. I believe it would be especially interesting for someone who didn't grow up in North Dakota. I did, so I heard similar stories growing up from my own parents and grandparents, but I think to someone who hasn't been exposed to that way of life, it could be really interesting to learn about North Dakotans.
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on July 3, 2012
She is a gifted writer and her observations about growing up in a rural setting, love, parents, siblings, the need to flee our hometowns and the way we eventually reconcile who we are and where we came from are all spot on perfect. The book is poignant and funny.
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on May 30, 2007
Funny and bittersweet, this memoir captures the difficult relations between children and parents and will resonate with many American young women who took a path their parents didn't anticipate and struggle for recognition both at home and in the equally tough wider world of adulthood. Debra Marquart's a fine, fine writer--one to watch.
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