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The Mountain and the Fathers: Growing Up in the Big Dry Paperback – June 11, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Joe Wilkins evokes place like Willa Cather. That is, place begins as a kind of raw, wide-open poetry. He addresses memory and the inability to remember in lyrical prose that is achingly beautiful yet never pretentious or sentimental. With exquisite control at both the structural and sentence level, he displays both a surety and openness to question, particularly with regard to class and masculinity without theorizing or naming them as such." --from the Citation for the 2014 GLCA New Writers Award in Nonfiction


Praise for The Mountain and the Fathers

“Joe Wilkins writes his truths straight from the broken heart of a broken land. When I read his personal stories, so lyrically and wondrously imagined, I feel a beautiful and sometimes terrifying emotion rise up in me—mythic, redemptive, and sustaining. If you want to read what matters, read this.” —Kim Barnes, Pulitzer Prize Finalist for In the Wilderness

“Joe Wilkins’ sketches of life in Montana’s Big Dry country, north of Billings and halfway to nowhere, are filled with a potent combination of loving poetry and bitter nostalgia. You can smell the sage and wild onions and feel how this land apart forms and twists those who live there, and sometimes kills them. Wilkins’ search for his father—and for himself—takes its own twist: the Big Dry may care nothing for pilgrims and father seekers, but it marks its own as surely as a father marks a son.” —John N. Maclean

“Joe Wilkins grew up on the enormous plains of eastern Montana. He found plenty to respect and revere and plenty to escape. And he learned the stories and how to tell them. The Mountain and the Fathersis vivid and compelling. We're reading it in Montana in order to understand ourselves. And for the pure pleasure we find in the storytelling.” —William Kittredge

"Joe Wilkins grew up hard in the middle of nowhere—the bent-back, make-do world of the driest, loneliest country in all Montana—and after reading this memoir about the West, about myth, about manhood, about grief and transcendence, I felt at once heartbroken and hopeful and ultimately awed by his ability to twist sentences like barbed wire, his voice wondrously rich with dirt-and-gravel poetry." —Benjamin Percy, author of The Wilding

“Wilkins—who writes out of the James Wright and Richard Hugo tradition—has a voice all his own. Each sentence is a hand-built and beautiful thing…The words at time feel old and weary. Sometimes they feel expansive like Montana’s plains. Sometimes they suffocate the reader under the weight of expectations. Other times they are so dry and barren that they nearly blow off the page. But they are always poetic, and they always sing in a voice that so few writers possess.” —Brevity

The Mountain and the Fathers is a wonderfully rendered portrait of starkly beautiful rural life and a haunting search for what it means to be a man in the American West. Wilkins is a poet; his eye for detail is clear and he writes with the narrative grace of high lonesome prairie wind.” —Elliot Bay Books

“No one combines the personal and the natural better than Joe Wilkins. He’s a hero of mine and will be your hero, too.” —David Gessner, Bill and Dave’s Cocktail Hour

“Joe Wilkins’s writing in Orion and elsewhere evokes the difficult and formative weight of his home place—eastern Montana’s Big Dry. In his new memoir, The Mountain and the Fathers, Wilkins gathers flashes of his early life there, and arranges them in ways that are graceful and hard and beautiful.” —Scott Gast, Orion

“Page after page and sentence after sentence, this is one of the best-written and most readable books to come across this reader’s desk, worthy of keeping company with such excellent nonfiction such as A River Runs Through It, Blue Highways, and Tom Montag’s Curlew.” —Briar Cliff Review

About the Author

Joe Wilkins lives with his wife and two young children in western Oregon, where he teaches writing at Linfield College. He is the author of two collections of poetry, Notes from the Journey Westward and Killing the Murnion Dogs. The Mountain and the Fathers: Growing up on the Big Dry has recently been recognized with a number of post-publication honors, including being named the winner of the 2014 GLCA New Writers Award in Nonfiction, a finalist for the 2013 Orion Book Award, and a 2012 Montana Book Award Honor Book.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint (June 11, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1619021617
  • ISBN-13: 978-1619021617
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #747,206 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Joe Wilkins' memoir, The Mountain and the Fathers (2012), captures life in the Big Dry, a desolate region in eastern Montana that shapes the men who live there and rarely lets them go. He is also the author of the poetry collections Killing the Murnion Dogs (2011), a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize and the High Plains Book Award, and Notes from the Journey Westward (2012), winner of the White Pine Press Poetry Prize and the High Plains Book Award. His essays, poems, and stories have appeared in many magazines and journals, including The Georgia Review, The Southern Review, The Missouri Review, Harvard Review, Orion, The Sun, The Utne Reader, and Slate.

A National Magazine Award finalist and PEN Center USA Award finalist, he is the recipient of the Richard J. Margolis Award of Blue Mountain Center, which goes to "a promising new journalist or essayist whose work combines warmth, humor, wisdom and concern with social justice." Deborah Kim, editor at the Indiana Review, writes, "The most striking component of [Wilkins' work] is its awareness of 'the whole world.' What is ordinary becomes transcendent. In places derelict and seemingly unexceptional, Wilkins compels us to recognize what is worth salvage, worth praise."

The Mountain and the Fathers was recently awarded the 2014 GLCA New Writers Award in Nonfiction and was previously named an Orion Book Award finalist and a Montana Book Award Honor Book. Wilkins' work has been anthologized in Best American Magazine Writing, Writing Today, New Poets of the American West, The Southern Poetry Anthology, and Best New Poets 2006, and has earned notable mention in Best American Nonrequired Reading, Best American Essays, and the Pushcart Prize anthology. As the winner of the Boyden Wilderness Writing Residency from PEN Northwest, he and his family will spend the summer and fall of 2015 living in a remote cabin along the Rogue River in southwest Oregon.

Wilkins lives with his wife, son, and daughter in McMinnville, where he teaches writing at Linfield College.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Blake Slonecker on August 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The Mountain and the Fathers transports you to the dust and bones of eastern Montana's Big Dry, a place few outsiders visit and few insiders leave. But Wilkins did leave, and this memoir serves as a reminder that people can overcome challenging circumstances even as almost everybody around them struggles to survive.

The Mountain and the Fathers works at many levels. The dispossession of a generation of Montana ranchers--brilliantly depicted in the chapter "Railroad," a historical overview of boom and bust--provides the canvas on which Wilkins explores the more personal loss of his father to cancer. That loss haunts every page of the memoir, as Wilkins survives life on the barren Big Dry and negotiates relationships with one father figure after another. Somehow amid that setting of sorrow, Wilkins maintains hope and optimism about the human spirit.

The Mountain and the Fathers is rich, earthy, and lyrical--every sentence withstands scrutiny, every chapter warrants re-reading. Dog-ear your favorite passages and few pages will remain unbent.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By K Garfin on August 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Wilkins was born and raised on a ranch in the area of eastern Montana known as the Big Dry. His father and grandfather work hard to make a living off this unforgiving yet starkly beautiful land, but when Wilkins is nine years old, his father dies of cancer. The sparse memories of his father contrast with the vivid portraits of the many men in Wilkins' hometown who in various small (or in the case of his grandfather, big) ways teach him what it means to be a man and ultimately help him escape from a life he was not meant to live. The character of his mother and the story of his parents' courtship and love also loom large. Wilkins tells his story with poetry and heart. This is a book about growing up with loss and discovery, loneliness and love, and how stories can sustain us all as we make our way through the world. I highly recommend this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sean Prentiss on July 14, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The Mountains and the Fathers is much like the landscape in which it takes place. Like Montana's Big Dry region, this book is big and wide and encompasses a world from horizon to horizon. And that view includes images of a dry and barren landscape, coming of age in a place that doesn't feel your own, the sadness of losing a father, the strength of community, and the harshness of surviving in a place that breaks even the strongest.

Not only does Joe Wilkins bring to life Melstone, Montana and its hardened people, but he does it in a lyrical and poetic way. We don't just read of these people and this place. We feel it in the songs he sings with his words. This books feels as much a collection of poems (like his collection "Killing the Murnion Dogs") as it does a memoir. And that is high praise. This is a book to read on a mountainside. A book to read on a front porch. A book to read while driving across the great belly of America. A book to read to your lover.

For comparisons, this book sings like James Galvin's "The Meadow." And it looks at ranching similar to Ivan Doig's This Earth House of Sky" or Judy Blunt's "Breaking Clean." Joe has the honesty of Mary Clearman Blew and the lyricalness of Kim Barnes. And his essays end with a punch just like a James Wright poem. Buy this book. You'll love it. You will.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Nate R. on August 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've never been to the Big Dry in Montana, but Wilkins does a great job of evoking it--a hard land, and a challenging place for kids who haven't yet hardened. Wilkins is at his best when he explores divides--between generations, between poor and poorer, between the "soft" world of school/education (not to mention poetry) and the rugged and gritty landscape. And he's at his best a lot. The language here is infused with a kind of beautiful melancholy. This isn't just another memoir of the West, however--that's been done before. What most impresses me is Wilkins' ability to pull the reader back into childhood, into the physical and emotional growing pains and pangs of coming of age. Parts of this book reminded me of those wonderful childhood scenes from Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life--by turns befuddled and amazed by the confounding world of adults, with the camera perpetually looking up (at fathers, mothers, grandfathers, brothers, those cagey friends who've tasted the apple--or at least boast that they have--before you even knew the apple was there). And hurtling, terrified, toward the future, or as Housman puts it, in what would serve as a fitting epigraph for this book, "I, a stranger and afraid/in a World I never made." Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By JAGray on March 3, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book tells the truth, unvarnished, swept raw by fierce prairie winds, and battered by hail storms. Joe Wilkins has laid his soul bare, but not barren - he has uncorked a pent-up emotional bottle to beat back the drought, to bring some clarity to remembered pieces of his unique upbringing.

As a native Montanan, I visited the Jersey Lily many years ago, and it has so much more meaning to me now that I've read this remarkable memoir. My Montana, though truth for me, is so different from Joe Wilkins' experience; but I suppose that's the terrific beauty of our native state - it can encompass all these truths, all the mothers and fathers and grandfathers, the mythic stoicism of the self-reliant farmer and rancher, the homesteaders of our past and present. I will always love Montana, and more so, somehow, after reading this brilliant book. Thank you.
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