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North by northwest . . .
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."