Monday, July 22, 2024

Monday, Monday

 


WIDOW CLIQUOT is the story of the first female champagne -maker in France. It was pretty to look at but concentrated too heavily on her husband's opium addiction when it should have been more about her court case to claim ownership of the vineyards. Too bad. I am trying to support a local theater that is taking a chance on foreign and indy films but some of them aren't great either.

Finishing up JAMES by Percival Everett and THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRIE, which Tracy talked about last week. Enjoying both.

On TV, started CRACKERS (again). I saw it the first time when we were living in Manchester so it is bringing back a lot of memories from 1994-95. And even '97 when we watched another season in Amsterdam. I wish it was a better copy of the series. We forget how much better TV shows look now. Also watching PRESUMED INNOCENT. Great acting but the plot is all over the place. One left.

A lot of nice weather this last stretch. Mid-eighties mostly, which is summer. 

Went down to see the restoration of Michigan Central-which as they said was Michigan's Ellis Island. They did a great job, but it looks like an office building and not a train station (which is what it now it. Ford did a great job on detailing the story for visitors. They decided to keep some of the graffiti that was everywhere for many years. It's part of its history too. 

What about you?

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Short Story Wednesday: "Alaska" from POTATO TREE by James Sallis


 A collection of all of James Sallis fiction (BRIGHT SEGMENTS) is coming out in November. I have always greatly admired his writing-and there is much of it to admire. His Lew Griffin detective series is one of my favorites. So too his John Turner trilogy. But his short stories are something even more special to me. He understands perfectly what the reader needs to know and he gives them exactly that. He captures both the horror and beauty of the world. There is never a boring sentence and his characters come alive in so few words.

"Alaska" takes place in a medical unit where a woman Tony (our protagonist) has known is brought in with a bird's beak sunk into her cheek. While a surgeon is brought into do a surgical procedure to remove it, Tony and Susan mete out the sparse details that led to their earlier breakup. Details of the medical unit are interspersed with their love story, along with the removal of the bird's beak, how does he get it so right? Multiple pain fills the page. Not a wasted word. Brilliant. 


Todd Mason

George Kelley 

TracyK 

Jerry House 

Casual Debris

Sunday, July 14, 2024

Monday, Monday


 And for the first time, I won't be looking for a post from Steve. He was such a nice if very quiet guy. He had read virtually every book you could name, and seen every movie of any merit. We only met up half a dozen times (he lives a mile or two away) and there was no romance about it at all, but I always enjoyed his company. Rest well, Steve. 

 I watched CHINATOWN the other night to remember Robert Towne. I watched an interview with him on you tube. He talked a lot about tuna fishing and darn if it wasn't mentioned in the first scene of CHINATOWN. I didn't know his brother was also a screenwriter. I hadn't seen CHINATOWN in years but it was as good as I remembered. Filmed so beautifully and with great dialog. I have never been a particular fan of Jack Nicholson or Faye Dunaway, but they both did great work in this one. It was strange how B list the cast was beside from them (and John Houston). 

Hoping LADY IN THE LAKE (Laura Lippman's book) on Apple is good because there is so little on right now. I tried to watch RESPONDER with Martin Freeman on Brit Box and I could see it was well done, but just too depressing and dark for me. And I loved Martin Freeman. I also am trying to watch PRESUMED INNOCENT, but eight episodes to tell the story seems excessive. It was a two-hour movie I think

I ride right between shows that are too light and ones that are too dark. My comfort zone is LEWIS, where the crimes weren't too grisley, but they were not humorous. And I like to know the cops solving the crimes. 

I may have to watch FRASIER for the fourth time. 

What about you?

Reading JAMES by Percival Everett and it is terrific. 

Going to Ann Arbor to see a play today. Always enjoy my little play group who supports this tiny, tiny theater.   

Friday, July 12, 2024

Thanks to Juri Nummelin for publishing a third collection of my stories in Finland.


 

FFB: EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULL, Peter Biskind

 

Whenever there is a list of the greatest books on film, this one is at the top five along with PICTURES AT A REVOLUTION, CITY OF NETS, ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE, HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT. And so many more. Looking at a list now, I have read so many of these books over the years. 

This one's thesis is the revolution going on in the late sixties and early seventies in other aspects of American culture began to affect the films being made too. Biskind dates the changes from the year 1971 and begins with Martin Scorsese. The body of work dating from that period is undeniably some of the greatest films to ever be made. They employed a new group of young directors, young actors, young editors, young musicians. And this changed movies almost overnight. 

Anyone who loves movies has probably read this book but just in case, here it is. It is a long, dense book--the kind of book I don't seem to have the concentration for anymore. Apparently there is a film but it doesn't seem to be streaming anywhere. Too bad.

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

R.I.P. Steve Oerkfitz

 

Obituary for Steven A. Oerkfitz

Steven A. Oerkfitz, age 76, passed away unexpectedly on July 8, 2024, at his residence. Steve had lived in Royal Oak since 2017, previously being a longtime resident of Pontiac. He attended Michigan State University and received a bachelor's degree from Oakland University.
Steve worked as a letter carrier in Royal Oak. After leaving the post office, he was employed as a librarian at the Pontiac library, and later at the Birmingham Bookstore until it sold. He then worked as a landscaper at Tru Green until his retirement. A lifelong lover of books and reading, Steve collected rare books and had a profound love for movies and music, especially alternative music and modern rock. Known for his photographic memory, he had extensive knowledge about many topics due to his love of reading. He enjoyed socializing at Barton Towers and played a competitive game of Wii Bowling.
Steven was the loving father of Kim (Rick) Price, Sean Oerkfitz, and Brittany Oerkfitz. He was a proud grandfather of Lauren, Sidney, Gavin, Zach, Damon, Caine, Ashlee, Alyssa, Damien, Skylar, Kimora, and Kamren. He had five great-grandchildren that he adored Rowan, Graham, Mason, Grayson, and Theodore. He was also the dear brother of Leslie (Tom) Tanghe. Uncle of Josh and Jack Tanghe.
No public services will be held at this time. Share your memories at www.sullivanfuneraldirectors.com >.

Short Story Wednesday: From Taffy Brodesser Aknew

 https://www.nytimes.com/2024/07/07/magazine/kidnapping-long-island.html

 

I know her novel (LONG ISLAND COMPROMISE) will be great, but it would be hard to top this story and what it tells us about the attempt to overcome trauma of any kind.  Hold onto your seat....


George Kelley

Jerry House

Monday, July 08, 2024

R.I P Steve Oerkfitz



I am so very sorry to have to tell you that Steve Oerkfitz apparently died. I was about to email him to see why we hadn't heard from him and I went on facebook to check if he'd been active there and there was a note from one of his daughters that he had died. I know Steve always expected to die young from childhood diabetes but this is quite a shock. That is all the information I have but I will check again to see if she posts more.  I believe Steve was 76. He was a manager at both Borders and Barnes and Noble over the years. He had a B.A. in English from Oakland University (MI) and was an avid reader and movie fan. He was a kind man who delighted in his children, grandchildren and a great grandchild.

Monday, Monday

 


A quick one as it took us five hours to do a three hour drive from Canada to home. We never quite figures out why the last three miles took 90 minutes to do.

So it is eleven and I am weary. Really loved SOMETHING IS ROTTEN-and liked LA CAGES AUX FOLLES. Both theaters were bursting with play-goers and these are large venues. Very nice to be with some of my family. 

Reading ANGEL by Denis Johnson.

THE BEAR is disappointing as everyone has said. Sad to have finished FRIDAY NIGHT DINNER, which was consistently good for six seasons. 

What about you?

Friday, July 05, 2024


                                            Taking a break. See you Monday.

Wednesday, July 03, 2024

Short Story Wednesday: "The Void" from NORMAL RULES DON'T APPLY by Kate Atkinson

 


 In "The Void," the first story in the collection, one family experiences five minute periods where people outside fall down dead. Those inside are untouched. And animals, except for insects and birds, go too. Of course, what makes Atkinson shine in a story like this one is how beautiful the writing is and how her two characters come to life so fully--even as they go to their death. I guess all of the stories in this collection will share elements like these. She never feels any need to explain it and I didn't need to know. Goody. What a talent for so many years now. 

Todd Mason

George Kelley 

Jerry House 

TracyK

Monday, July 01, 2024

Monday, Monday

 

I saw THELMA with a bunch of my fellow senior citizens and enjoyed it. June Squibb should

have been a leading lady a long time ago because she can carry a movie. And Richard Roundtree, since died, was as gorgeous as ever. Lots of fun. Rewatched POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE, which was better than I remembered. Also watching NORTHERN LIGHTS (Britbox, okay but not great), GRANTCHESTER, THE BEAR (HULU) THE LETDOWN, an Australian show on NETFLIX. 

Still working on HORSE. Can't really get into all the info about horse racing but some of the other strands are better. Megan talked me into buying ANGELS by Denis Johnson and I have to begin JAMES by Percival Everett for my second book group. Megan also sent me a collection of stories by Kate Atkinson. I think when I tell her I am reading HORSE week after week, she worries.

Going with Josh, Julie and Kevin at the end of the week to Stratford to see: LAS CAGES AUX FOLLES and SOMETHING'S ROTTEN. If I don't get an entry on MONDAY, MONDAY next week, I will at least post it for you guys to use.

I almost had a haiku published. The editor said I got three of the four votes I needed. So I will keep trying. Haiku is a funny thing. Some of the ones I read are so simple as to seem banal and other so complex they seem impenetrable. I think I am still not reading them correctly. I will have a story in DARK YONDER imminently. I will give you a link when I have one. I think sports fans will like this one as it deals with 1968 Pennsylvania sports teams. 

*Whoopy, I just had a haibun accepted. Seven hundred drafts apparently paid off. 

So what about you?

Friday, June 28, 2024

FFB - Nightcall and Other Stories, Charlotte Armstrong

From the archives: Ed Gorman was the author of the Sam McCain and Dev Conrad series of crime novels.  You can find him here.

Forgotten Books: Charlotte Armstrong Night Call & Other Stories



New from Crippen & Landru

 I first read Charlotte Armstrong after seeing a 1952 movie called "Don't Bother To Knock." The stars were Richard Widmark and Marilyn Monroe. Monroe plays a seriously disturbed young woman asked to babysit the child of Widmark and his wife. Monroe is terrific--terrifying. Will she kill the kid?
  I'd seen the name Charlotte Armstrong on the metal paperback racks. She always seemed to have a new paperback out. And she was in Ellery Queen a lot. I tracked down Mischief which the Monroe movie was based on and became an Armstrong fan for life.
  If she was not as phantasmagoric as Dorothy B. Hughes sometimes was or as Elizabeth Sanxay Holding almost always was, Armstrong, as a critic recently noted, updated the gothic tropes of the previous generation and made of them tart and contemporary popular art.
  No critic of the time was a bigger promoter of Armstrong's work than Anthony Boucher. He noted that she was the creator of "suburan noir" and he was right.
  Though she used the tropes of what was dismissively called "women's fiction" she took them into a nether realm that was riveting and terrifying.
  Editors Rick Cypert and the late Kirby McCauley have collected here a collection of short and long stories that are a tribute to the Armstrong finesse and darkness.
  None of the pieces here have ever been collected before and there is also unpublished material.
  Everything in the book is packed with excellent storytelling but my favorite has to be the long novelette "Man in The Road") about a "career woman" (yes that was how they were divided from "real women" :) ) who returns home to a small bleak desert town only to find herself accused of a sinister mysterious hit-and-run. I'll pay this the highest compliment I can--this is the kind of twisty crime story Richard Matheson excelled at. It would have been perfect for the long form "Alfred Hitchcock Presents."
  My favorite of the shorter pieces is "The Cool Ones" which concerns the kidnapping of a grandmother and makes as contemporary a statement  as the Flower Power era she wrote it in.
  This is not only a major collection of a major writer  (thanks to Sarah Weinman for bringing so many overlooked women writers back to our attention) but is also the most beautifully jacketed and produced book Crippen & Landru has ever published.   

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Short Story Wednesday: THE BUGGY, Roddy Doyle THE NEW YORKER

 https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2024/06/24/the-buggy-fiction-roddy-doyle

 


 An older man speculates on whether a buggy on the beach might still hold a baby. He is on the way to visit his brother and the deserted buggy causes him to stop. He wrestles with the man he was in the past who would have known what to do. He remembers his childhood, his young adulthood and his own children. This is very much a story about feeling impotent compared to the way he felt when he was young. A woman comes and it is clear there is no baby in the buggy. Instead of him saving a baby, she wants to save him. This is lovely writing and a fine story but it will not make you smile. Later he tells his brother he found a buggy with a baby in it. It makes a better story and it makes him a man who can rescue babies. 


George Kelley

Jerry House 

Kevin Tipple

Monday, June 24, 2024

Monday, Monday


 Had four good days in NY where we saw MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, STEREOPHONIC and AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE in quick succession. We also saw great exhibits at the MET (Harlem Renaissance), MOMA, (Kathe Kollwitz) and FOTOGRAFITZA (Vivian Maier). Also saw the premier of FANCY DANCE with Megan at the Hotel Whitby with the cast in attendance. Had okay food but nothing exceptional.The temps weren't too hot for our visit but were climbing day by day.

And then my friend got COVID. I hustled her to a URGENT CARE, where we were both tested and somehow I didn't catch it. Her prescription for Paxlovid really seemed to help. But sadly we had to fly home, well masked, but perhaps infecting more people. What can you do? The place we stayed (a friend's) was about to undergo a kitchen renovation so we needed to get out. 

Last night I saw a very good movie if it comes your way, GHOSTLIGHT. Set in Chicago and acted by Chicago actors. Lovely little movie. 

No TV except a doc on the making of the original MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG. 

Reading HORSE, which is okay but boy, horses don't much interest me. And it is hard to read about the treatment of slaves once again. Do book groups ever choose books that are happy?

How about you?

Monday, June 17, 2024

Friday, June 14, 2024

Forgotten Movies: A MAN AND A WOMAN


 Jean-Louis (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is a widower who has become a single father after his wife's suicide, and Anne (Anouk Aimée) is a widow and single mother still reeling from the accidental death of her husband. When the two cross paths at their children's boarding school, both are wary, but they soon form a friendship that is quickly charged with romance. Yet the pair continue to struggle to overcome their past tragedies as they try to begin a new relationship. 

This won several Oscars including Best Foreign Language Film, best actress, and best screenplay in 1966. It is imaginatively but sometimes annoyingly filmed. It's romantic and sexy.

The back stories of the lovers are filmed very differently. Probably still influenced by the French New Wave in 1966. Several scenes seem completely extraneous to the plot. 

This was on Kanopy in my area but it is probably also on Prime. You will be humming its theme song all night.

 

Monday, June 10, 2024

Monday, Monday

 I will put an empty post up for next Monday so you can communicate while I am in NY.


Really liked THE GREAT LILLIAN HALL on Max. Jessica Lange was terrific and the story (based on Marion Seldes, who I bet Jeff has seen in plays) was sad but very well done.

Finished HACKS, which had a great last episode after a few middling ones. I would have written this season where she had already gotten the job hosting a Late Night show. Seems like they were treading water although Smart and the rest of the cast was great. Trying to watch WHITE COLLAR but boy, anything about finance, just shuts down my brain.


Saw a local production of SUNSET BOULEVARD. Is it me or does all of Andrew Lloyd Weber's music sound the same? Or else I saw this one before. This company did a great job with a not- so- hot screenplay. There is not very much plot in this tale. And I am not fond of singing the story. Write songs or write spoken dialogue. The actor who played Joe Gillis was an actor I saw last fall in THE MOUSETRAP at another theater. I spent the whole play trying to remember what I saw him in. Very cute guy and they had him parade around in a swim suit for a while.

Reading HORSE by Geraldine Brooks and PROVENCE, 1970 (Burr) Got TABLE FOR TWO (Towles) from library but it is too thick to take with me. 

Lots of rain here. Hoping it is not too hot in NY later this week. 

What about you?

Friday, June 07, 2024

FFB: LANDMARKS: A HAIBUN COLLECTION

 


Book by Ray Rasmussen
 
 
Landmarks is a collection of 64 of Ray Rasmussen's haibun that have appeared in a number of journals including Modern Haiku, Frogpond, Haibun Today, Contemporary Haibun Online, A Hundred Gourds, Bottle Rockets and Blithe Spirit. ... Google Books
Originally published: July 29, 2015
 
Rasmussen is especially good at being modest and honest about his life in this collection.
 
A haibun is a combination of poetry and prose. The poetry being a haiku, the prose, usually but not always, personal. Modern haiku are generally about 13 syllables, not the 17 we learned in fourth grade. They often have a nature reference. The haiku (there can be more than one), usually at the end of the prose section, is meant to comment on or deepen the prose. A title is also important. Thus far I have not written a haibun I am satisfied with but here is a try I did for my writing group. Haibun writers suggest 20 years to learn the art. Back at 96 then. 

Virtual Fences by Patricia Abbott

I grew up in a row house in the West Oak Lane section of Philadelphia. The tiny backyard was more mud than grass. Fences were few because barriers would’ve taken precious inches away from the lot. Clotheslines strung on metal poles were as close as we came to fences.

                                                                        thistle shudders

                                                                        when a bouncing ball

              kneecaps it

There was one exception. Mrs. Pershing, an elderly widow, kept her dog in a small fenced-in area. If you got too close to his pen, which was easy to do in those narrow alleys, Buster went wild. Although there were other dogs on our street, most were kept inside, a practice endorsed by my father who had a set piece he delivered on the city being no place for dogs. His “How to avoid getting bitten by a dog” still troubles me today.

                                                                        against steel fabric

                                                                        woven into mesh

               you press your nose

On summer nights, twenty or so of us played various games in the alley until dark. If left outside, Buster’s barking was incessant. If he barked too long or with a certain panic in his voice, Mrs. Pershing would appear with a baseball bat in hand and wave it at us. We were more afraid of her than the dog tied to the clothes pole. Over time, our cohort outgrew playing in the alley and turned it over to a new crop of ten-year olds. Buster would break the new crowd in but got hoarser and more lethargic as the years passed. He eventually outgrew his grit and lost most of his teeth. As did his master.

            the dog struggles 

            rope twisted tight on a pole

            the zing of metal

A few years later as I was passing Mrs. Pershing’s house, she tapped on her window. She was frail by then and not frightening to a sixteen-year-old. I went to her door, and she asked me if I could pick up a prescription at the drug store. We talked now and then after that small favor, and she confided how frightened she’d been living alone in the years after her husband died. With no children of her own, the kids in the alley scared her as much as she scared us.

Why didn’t I tell my parents about Mrs. Pershing and her dog? Why not alert them to the possibly explosive problem just down the street? It never occurred to me, nor to anyone else on Gilbert Street in the nineteen sixties. The alley was our province and we handled things in our own way. No matter what the issue, no one brought in a parent. Maybe children didn’t expect adult intervention in their lives. And maybe an elderly woman didn’t count on help from her neighbors either.

                                                                        A neighbor or two

                                                                        the priest fumbling for her name

                                                                        ground frozen till spring

 

The challenge was write something about fences.

Wednesday, June 05, 2024

Short Story Wednesday: collected stories of Carson McCullers

 


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YO97vU15sp0

The link is to a Suzanne Vega performance based on the work of McCullers. Not sure when it took place.

I read two stories in this collection"Instant of the Hour After" and "A Domestic Dilemma." Written 20 years apart, they both concern alcoholism . McCullers husband suffered from this, eventually committing suicide. 

The early story, written when McCullers was 20, in many ways seemed more modern. It concerns a very young couple where it was already clear that drink is going to ruin their lives. Although they have both been drinking on this occasion, the man is in a real stupor. 

In the second story, it is the woman who drinks. There are two children now and the husband has walked in on two dangerous situations and is prepared to intervene although he blames himself to a degree for taking his wife away from her home town and family. 

I have read THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER and THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING but not in a while. Both were made into terrific movies too. 

George Kelley

Kevin Tipple   (Still not getting this link to work. Will try again later)

TracyK 

Jerry House

Monday, June 03, 2024

Monday, Monday

 

I had to think HIT MAN over for a while before coming to terms with the ending. Glen Powell is certainly the flavor of the month though. I guess I've come to think of certain kinds of movies as being Richard Linklater movies and this wasn't it. Although it is not so different from BERNIE the more I thought about it. It's on Netflix starting June 7.

I saw JUNIPER with Charlotte Rampling on KANOPY. It would have been a mediocre movie without her. Had a great last song by Marlon Williams.  A little like Elvis, right?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQjNd0EhmKc

Because I have so much trouble finishing one book a month for my book group, I joined another one tentatively.  This is a bigger group so if I don't like the book or get busy, no one is depending on me. Books: HORSES and JAMES. Lots of Haiku. Still trying to get the hang of it.

Watching OUTER RANGE, REV, CATASTROPHE, FRIDAY NIGHT DINNER. 

What about you?


Friday, May 31, 2024

FFB: A SON OF THE MIDDLE BORDER, Hamlin Garland (reviewed by Ron Scheer in 2014)

 

(what a great reviewer Ron was)

Hamlin Garland, A Son of the Middle Border (1917)

First edition
Being a Nebraska farm boy, I grew up on a middle border between Midwest and West many decades after Garland. Yet I found much that was familiar in his memoir of rural life during the period of Western expansion, 1865 – 1900. By the 1940s, not that much had changed. 

Farm work was more mechanized, and gas-powered tractors had taken the place of horses. Improved roads and automobiles had shortened distances. But farm work was still hard, often grueling labor at the mercy of the elements. There was dust, manure, and mud, and whether bumper years or drought and crop failures, farm life was isolated and lonely.

Realism. Garland’s realistic portrayal of it—the beauty as well as the ugliness—collided with two different streams of thought about rural America in the early 20th century. One was a pastoral, bucolic, and picturesque vision of simple, wholesome living far from the corruptive influence of the city. Another was the go-west boosterism that coaxed settlers from the East and abroad to snap up free land and get rich as agricultural producers. Garland saw in his own family’s example the empty promise at the heart of both visions.

The Garland family
He came to understand that a nation’s culture thrived in its major cities, where books were published, talented artists gathered, and there was intellectual stimulation for freedom of thought. Those with heart and mind for such pursuits were deprived of them in rural backwaters. For Garland, there was only one such city, Boston, while Chicago was no more than a huge commercial center, and New York had yet to emerge as more than a crowded port of entry.

The lure of the West, as Garland came to see it, was even more devastating in its effect. His pioneering father moved west a total of five times, with time off to serve as a Union soldier during the Civil War. As a boy, Garland went with his family from their farm near La Crosse, Wisconsin, to a homestead community near Osage, in northeast Iowa. At the age of 10 he was plowing virgin sod there with horses.

The next move was to the James River Valley near Aberdeen in Dakota, where his father eventually acquired 1000 acres of prairie, converted to wheat. But after 2 – 3 years of crop failure he was ready to move once again, this time to Montana, where there was irrigation for farming. By now able to supplement his father’s income, and seeing his mother’s failing health, Garland persuaded his parents to return to Wisconsin, where they could spend their last years with the friends and family who never left.

Farewell gathering
The cost of pioneering. The lesson for Garland is that his father’s pioneering spirit grew from faith in false promises about the frontier. For all the energy he poured into making a living from the soil, he won little in return and would have been better off remaining in the Wisconsin settlement he had once fled from. Particularly ruinous was the effect on Garland’s mother, who labored unrewarded from before sun up to after sundown, seven days a week, years on end, giving birth to four children and losing two daughters to illness.

In Dakota, Garland observes that “nearly all, even the young men, looked worn and weather-beaten and some appeared both silent and sad.” He sees “the tragic futility of their existence,” their lives “dull and eventless.” Influenced by the social-economic theory of Henry George, he blames the system of land ownership, which has pushed settlers from the East and Europe/Russia onto western lands, where with “unremitting toil” they labor to feed and clothe families while remaining impoverished and fugitive.

Seminary graduation
Social history. There are other threads in Garland’s book that offer a modern-day reader (and especially writers) a deep experience of day-to-day life on the frontier in the latter third of the 19th century. I have already written here about how family life was enriched by song and music (see “Family musicale c1870”). A young person’s schooling, from the local country schoolhouse to “seminary” in town is also well described.

Interesting for book lovers is Garland’s recollection of his McGuffey Readers and how he supplemented his formal education with other reading material: 100 (by his count) dime novels, Hawthorne, Scott, Cooper, Paradise Lost, Twain’s Roughing It, western poet Joaquin Miller, The Life of P.T. Barnum, Franklin’s Autobiography, and Edward Eggleston’s Hoosier Schoolmaster, “a milestone in my literary progress,” he notes, “as it is in the development of distinctive western fiction.” Plus magazines and weekly newspapers: Hearth and Home, New York Saturday Night, New York Ledger, and New York Weekly.

Yet another thread of the book is Garland’s struggle as a starving writer and lecturer in Boston where he ekes out a living, while befriending the likes of novelist and editor William Dean Howells and eventually wins the praise of Walt Whitman. He is also deeply affected by the performances of Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth, who taught “the dignity, the power and the music of the English tongue.”

Hamlin Garland, 1893, age 33
Wrapping up. As someone who grew up with “barn shoes,” went to a country school, learned of jazz concerts and Impressionist painters on trips to Chicago, and once worked in an office with a view of the Empire State Building, I found Garland’s story easy to identify with. I share his ambivalence about rural living, where the smell of new-cut hay and the song of meadow larks are among its pleasures, while shoveling cowshit from a milking parlor remains an indelible memory of my teen years.

Mostly I want to recommend this 467-page book as an excellent reference for any writer placing a story on the prairie frontier during the decades following the Civil War. It’s a valuable lesson in social history as it captures a period of rapid national transition, with a realism that is a corrective to the somewhat different view of Little House on the Prairie.