There's no place like flyover land
By Katy Read, Special to the Star Tribune
Marquart, Debra. The Horizontal World: Growing Up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere. New York: Counterpoint Press, 2006.
Events: Debra Marquart reads 7 p.m. Thu., Loft Literary Center,
Open Book, 1011 Washington Av. S., Mpls.; 7 p.m. Fri., Magers &
Quinn, 3038 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.
From an early age, Debra Marquart planned to escape. She grew up
on a North Dakota farm, youngest of five kids in a family that devoted
even holidays and Sunday afternoons to chores, whose idea of exciting
travel was the biannual trip into Bismarck for supplies and whose
entertainment highlight was the TV show hosted by Lawrence Welk,
"the most famous person from North Dakota."
Marquart's "The Horizontal World: Growing Up Wild in the Middle
of Nowhere" (Counterpoint, $24), a collection of essays that
form a memoir, describes a youth filled with hard work and pragmatic
constraints. Three generations of her family had drawn a living
from that table-flat land, but Marquart knew she "wouldn't
be hanging around this dust hole forever." North Dakota was
harsh and dry and empty, the least visited state in the union, a
state so low in self-esteem that officials considered changing its
name to something that didn't so strongly evoke the words "cold"
Like her glamorous but "crazy" great-aunt who fled to
California, Marquart aimed for a more exotic life.
"We children of North Dakota are programmed for flight,"
she writes. "We populate the cities of this country, living
as expatriate small-town midwesterners. We grew up wild in the middle
of nowhere with the nagging suspicion that life was certainly elsewhere."
So Marquart prudently steered clear of local farmboys -- "they
know how to plant seeds" -- and joined a road-touring rock
band, straining relations with her parents. Later, Marquart went
to college and grad school, wrote a book of short stories and a
couple of books of poetry. She now coordinates the Creative Writing
Program at Iowa State University.
With graceful prose, vivid imagery and touches of humor, Marquart
tells a story familiar to generations of restless small-town teenagers.
She grows older and her rebelliousness softens. She develops an
interest in her ancestors, feels the pull of home. Exploring those
complex emotions, weaving in bits of history and mythology and genealogy,
Marquart comes to see her native chunk of flyover land as a place
of austere beauty, an inseparable part of herself.
"Why didn't we learn these things in school?" she asks
the state geologist who has told her that glacial waters flow beneath
her hometown's arid surface. "If I had known that I was growing
up in such an interesting place ... I think I would have loved home
a little more."
Katy Read writes for salon.com and other national publications.
She lives in Illinois.