Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lack of anonymity in rural Worthington

In his Smithsonian magazine essay, From Brooklyn to Worthington, Minnesota, novelist Tim O'Brien revisits his rural hometown. The story focuses on his father who began drinking heavily after moving to rural Worthington from Brooklyn. The drinking, attributed by O'Brien, in part, to the isolation of the rural town, eventually resulted in admittance to a state treatment facility for alcoholics--and a lot of shame and embarrassment for the author.

For my father, still a relatively young man, it had to be bewildering to find himself in a landscape of grain elevators, silos, farm implement dealerships, feed stores and livestock sales barns. I don't mean to be deterministic about it. Human suffering can rarely be reduced to a single cause, and my dad may well have ended up with similar problems no matter where he lived. Yet unlike Chicago or New York, small-town Minnesota did not allow a man's failings to disappear beneath a veil of numbers.


Places are defined not just by their physicality, but also by the joys and tragedies that transpire in those places. A tree is a tree until it is used for a hanging. A liquor store is a liquor store until your father almost owns the joint.

The essay, a highly recommended read touching on many aspects of rural life, is available online here.


camp said...
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camp said...

The anonymity issue is a great one - lots of room for debate because it's such a tricky thing to measure. I've yet to see an effective (or even attempted) metric for privacy, one that is able to compare privacy through time and in different cultural settings.
Clearly rural society offers certain privacy enhancements relative to metro living and, as this story makes clear, some wide open vistas in to the lives of your neighbors.

It also reminds me of a Lou Reed/John Cale song - Small Town:

When you're growing up in a small town
and you're having a nervous breakdown
and you think that you'll never escape it
Yourself or the place that you live


There is only one good thing about small town
There is only one good use for a small town
There is only one good thing about small town
You know that you want to get out

Here's a youtube clip - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O6L0UD_zn4A