Wednesday, September 24, 2008

An author from the heartland, on the heartland

This story on NPR caught my attention in relation to literary depictions of the rural. The book featured is Home, by Marilynne Robinson. Robinson has been associated with Iowa writers workshop for a couple of decades now, though she grew up in Idaho. Here's an excerpt from Lynn Neary's report, which notes that Robinson's previous novel was also set in the same small Iowa town as Home. The first quote is of Robinson:

"There is a definite Iowa aesthetic . . . . It's sort of modest and optimistic. I think people forget in the metropolitan areas of the country that the country really is largely made up of small towns that function well for the most part."

Robinson's fictional town is called Gilead, a name fairly common among early 19th century American towns because, as Robinson says, people settling this country "had these Utopian intentions. They were going to create a place where there was balm ... the pain of other civilizations would be answered."

I like Robinson's non-romantic, even-handed characterization of small towns as places that "function well for the most part." I haven't read the book, but that line suggests that she strikes a middle ground between depictions of rural America as either idyllic or hopeless.

Listen to the full NPR story here.

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