Midwestern Paranormal Noir

h1 September 10th, 2006 by eisha

The Driftless AreaHere’s the thing: I work as a children’s librarian, but I love to read adult lit too. But since I don’t have a lot of exposure to the review journals for adult books, I don’t always hear about all the cool new grown-up books coming out. In some ways this is kind of sad, and I wish I could make more time to peruse LJ and PW to see what’s happening on the other side of the library. But sometimes it results in what I like to call “happy accidents” (a phrase I borrowed from Bob Ross): I’ll come across an interesting-looking book, completely by chance, and get to read it with absolutely no idea what it’s about or what other people have said about it. The Driftless Area by Tom Drury was just such an accident, and I’m quite happy about it.

On the surface, our protagonist Pierre Hunter seems like an aimless 20-something slacker, but we learn from the first chapter that, when properly motivated, he is capable of doing the improbable. And perhaps it’s this quality that makes him the inevitable choice as catalyst for a bizarre string of actions and consequences. He is rescued from a frozen lake by a beautiful woman, and he falls in love. But Stella isn’t who she seems to be, and her appearance wasn’t an accident. A quirky cast of small-town losers and blasé criminals is assembled, and they play out their predetermined roles with deadpan wit and a sort of resigned, philosophical grace. It’s a strange combination – the writing is spare and reserved, yet manages to incorporate some of the biggest ideas in literature: fate, love, the nature of reality, and the tenuous boundary between life and death.

After I finished it, I let myself read the reviews. Booklist used the phrase I grabbed for the title of this post, “midwestern paranormal noir,” which pretty much nails it – it’s exactly the sort of reality-with-a-twist that I love. And Publisher’s Weekly refers to “Coen brothers-meet-David Lynch characters,” which is also apt – I think if you liked Fargo, Barton Fink and/or Twin Peaks (the first season), you’ll dig this. The title, if you’re curious, refers to a geographic anomaly, an unusually hilly and rough region of the midwest that escaped the glaciers’ path during the last Ice Age. And that’s it – I’m not going to tell you any more. Just read it and let the happy accident happen.

6 comments to “Midwestern Paranormal Noir”

  1. that is a perfectly tantalizing review! — j.

  2. I’m convinced that, at least as a YA author, I need to read widely across all genres, and extensively in adult lit. It’s important to know the best that literature has to offer, and learn from it. Poetry too is particularly importantin order to see how language is being stretched to its fullest.

  3. word, lee. i really just love good writing, and don’t see why good writing for one age group shouldn’t be informed by good reading in another lit category.

  4. Absolutely! And I need to have a look at the Drury book, it sounds good.

  5. Lee, though we didn’t ever actually say it aloud as a stated purpose-type thing, I think I can safely speak for Eisha when I say we were insistent that the blog be about both children’s and adult lit. for the reasons you all are naming. The blog, in other words, was created in the spirit of what you’re talking about — the best of lit in all categories, since they inform one another. Cool. Or Kewl, the cool spelling of cool.

  6. […] I confess that sometimes I wonder if our humble little blog here shouldn’t be focused on solely children’s lit (since it’s such a huge part of what Eisha and I do); we would then have a sharper (not necessarily better, though) focus. However, if that were the case, I wouldn’t be able to tell you how beautiful a novel like Alice McDermott’s latest is — not to mention that, as YA author L. Lee Lowe put it so nicely in one of the comment sections of our blog, “I need to read widely across all genres, and extensively in adult lit. It’s important to know the best that literature has to offer, and to learn from it. Poetry, too, is particularly important in order to see how language is being stretched to its fullest.” For shizzle, Lee (how’s that for stretching language to its fullest?). And, though McDermott — a National Book Award winner — writes prose and not poetry, this literary stretching Lowe speaks of is what McDermott does so well. […]

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