Iowa Alumni Magazine | June 2007 | Reviews

A Place of Sense: Essays in Search of the Midwest, edited by Michael Martone

By Kelly Stavnes
A Place of Sense

No matter where we come from, our childhood homes shape us. When we return as adults, we're shocked to see how many things change -- the houses, the businesses downtown, the ownership of neighboring farms. And then we appreciate the fundamentals that withstand the test of time -- parental love, kindness, and old farmers gathered over coffee.

A Place of Sense: Essays in Search of the Midwest delves into writers' heartland childhoods, bringing "a new understanding of the moods, emotions, people, and places that form the Midwest, proving it to be as complex and unordinarily beautiful as it is modest."

Michael J. Rosen's "Under the Sign of Wonder Bread and Belmont Caskets" follows him back to Columbus, Ohio, after studying medicine in the Caribbean. He contrasts his lush life in the tropics to his standard suburban upbringing, and traces the set of memories and decisions that prompt him to leave the Caribbean for the wholesome home life he missed.

In a more serious tone, Douglas Bauer's "The Way the Country Lies" expresses his fear of Iowa losing its livelihood and traditions during the 1980s farm crisis. David Hamilton, UI English professor and editor of the Iowa Review literary magazine, walks readers through his adolescence centered around the town square of his small community. "If You Can Talk to a Guy" by Jane Staw and Mary Swander captures the hospitality of a small town diner and the Midwest's famed openness and friendliness.

A small selection of photographs evokes images of these writers' pasts -- a quiet time filled with old Lincoln town cars, Greyhound bus stations, and the stark beauty of empty rural roads and tumbledown farmhouses. A Place of Sense offers a bittersweet homecoming for Midwesterners who moved elsewhere -- and for those of us who still live here, a poignant reminder of why we stay.