Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Horizontal World: Growing Up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere

Debra Marquart was born to a North Dakota dairy farming family and she got away from the farm and the state just as soon as she could, ready or not. She is the youngest of three sisters and one brother and, in her own judgment, was pretty much a disappointment to her parents until she neared forty years of age. Her career path is an interesting one but it is not one that would make it easy for parents to sleep at night: singer for traveling bands that covered the gamut from country to punk, college dropout, college professor and, now, coordinator of the Creative Writing Program at Iowa State University and musician with a rhythm and blues project called The Bone People.

The Horizontal World is Marquart’s frank account of what it was like for a girl with her temperament to grow up on a farm that that already been in her family for several generations and in a community in which everyone knew exactly who she was and everything about her. Despite her haste in leaving all that behind, Marquart eventually found herself drawn back to that very community in search of a deeper understanding of her roots. She never felt that her parents comprehended who she had become and what her life was like and found herself becoming the daughter that they “knew” when she visited them twice a year. She had not spoken to her father during the last two weeks of his life even though she had promised him that she “would be back” and that is a regret with which she still lives.

This is how she described her awareness that the world had more to offer to those willing to risk leaving the farm:
“I grew up in an almost bookless house, aside from the Betty Crocker cookbook and the gold-embossed row of World Book encyclopedias, which were only good for filling out the details in school reports. Great mysteries lurked out there in the world, I suspected, at which the World Book could only hint.”
I can barely imagine what it would be like to grow up in a place as sparsely populated as the Dakotas but Debra Marquart has vividly described what it is like for “dreamers” in all small towns across America who can’t wait to test themselves against the rest of the world.

Rated at: 3.5

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