Marquart goes home again in new memoir Iowa State professor left
Plains life, then rediscovers her past
Marquart, Debra. The Horizontal World: Growing Up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere. New York: Counterpoint Press, 2006.
"I grew up," Debra Marquart reveals, "in an almost
Indeed, her new memoir, "The Horizontal World: Growing Up
Wild in the
Middle of Nowhere," goes on to say that this Iowa State University
professor began her research career with "the Betty Crocker
the gold-embossed row of World Book encyclopedias."
And yet she "read voraciously as a child. ... The bookmobile
That truck is probably still making the rounds in her North Dakota
(Napoleon), but if justice ever visits the neighborhood, later generations
won't suffer as she did for lack of fine writing.
She arrived at ISU in 1991 as winner of the Hogrefe Fellowship,
She says it's been simple "good fortune" that she "ended
eventually earning tenure in ISU's Department of English.
Marquart denies that her latest book is simple autobiography. She
out that "memoir" is a publisher's term, and offers instead
new coinage "biomythography."
She defines it as a combination of reminiscence and research, going
books for "whatever discipline is necessary to narrate that
level of the story."
Disturbing yet nourishing, at once an elegy and a county fair,
World" asserts itself finally as a distinctive portrayal of
territories west of the 100th meridian, as well as a specialized
along the American journey from rags to riches. It's a memoir about
polarities: attachment and escape.
The subtitle, "Growing Up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere,"
core tension. Marquart's bookless home, with its austere farm rigors,
couldn't hold her - yet every adult turning point left her looking
The book follows that same rough chronology. The first half considers
parents and forebears (among them the "Marquart" who escaped
Russia and established the family farm) as it meditates on her childhood.
Young "Debbie" saw things unknown to most of late-20th-century
and so the adult writer takes time to describe castrating calves
slaughtering chickens - "Mmm, girls," says the mother,
as she lops off
another head or rips out another set of guts.
Fascinating as such things may seem at a distance, close up they
author determined to leave. The book's latter half addresses her
experience elsewhere, in particular her hardships as a road musician.
These chapters offer the greatest drama (material also covered
Marquart's "The Hunger Bone," 2001), intense epiphanies
about how home
ties can't be broken.
Throughout, Marquart slips poetic effects through the side of the
as if between chores.
The very title is neatly retooled, halfway along, so it no longer
to the landscape but rather to backseat groping with teenage boys.
nifty bit of duality proves the value in Marquart's beginning her
as a poet (her most recent collection is "From Sweetness,"
Less satisfying are her broader conclusions, in which research
designed to fit a private agenda. I could hear the ghosts howling
assertion that "German-Russians were a gentle people."
I doubt, too, that the highly various populations of the Midwest
raised under the rough tutelage of the Great Plains."
But "Horizontal World" isn't sociology or history at
heart, and when
Marquart goes on to describe the Plains as "a fierce and loving
taskmaster," she reiterates her memoir's twinned melody of
return. A classic tune, and rarely pulled off with such brio and
John Domini is a freelance writer from Des Moines.
His next novel, "Earthquake I.D.," is due in February.