ello, dearest little chickens. I’m back! I can only imagine how traumatic my absence has been for you all, and I promise such an extended departure from the UN Press Blog will never happen again. I wish I could say that I have been traversing the Spice
Route in search of rare silks, or that I have been in the Amazon discovering a new
9-legged beetle. But in truth, I’ve just been dodging the frenetic bullets of real life.
Enough about that. If National Book Award nominee Kent Haruf ("The Tie That Binds," "Plainsong") dressed in drag and migrated his characters about 4 hours east of his fictional Holt, Colorado, he just
might write like Pamela Carter Joern. Her novel, The Floor of the Sky, is part of the Flyover Fiction series, and is due out in September. But where Haruf is a master of the crotchety, stuck-in-his-ways rural man, Joern’s gift is capturing the essence of Nebraska ranch women.
These are no steel magnolias– the characters in TFOTS are sturdy as
oaks, with calloused hands and hearts sheathed in protective layers
like onions. They sip whiskey from coffee cups, castrate bulls without
blinking, and value loyalty and family above all else.
Into the windswept Sandhills of north central Nebraska mopes Lila, a
knocked-up city girl sent to live with her grandmother, Toby. Sullen
at first, Lila warms to the ranch lifestyle and to the cast of
characters–all of them seemingly in possession of decades-old
secrets–that drive on and off the ranch in weathered pickup trucks.
Joern’s prose is spare, not a word is wasted. Much of the
burgeoning affection between Lila and Toby shows in gestures, glances,
pauses in doorways. And as much as I hate to perpetuate clichés, it
really is true in this novel that the landscape becomes a character,
with as much depth and nuance as bitter Gertie or steadfast George.
I have always been suspicious of "Southern novels," or "rural
fiction." I suppose that, on some level, I feel protective of this
state, and of the Plains in general… I see no need for perpetuating
stereotypes of mullet-wearing hicks who sneer at foreign cars and
people of color. But when these stories of place work–and The Floor
of the Sky does–they bring to life quiet stories about quiet folks
who have no place in the chase scenes of The DaVinci Code. Toby,
Lila, and all of their relatives and compadres are as sophisticated and
complex as any urbanites; they just would never strive to be described
I spent a week in the Sandhills this month, and I fell in love the landscape and with the locals I met. I returned to Lincoln with
fantasies of selling my house and buying an elk ranch near the
Niobrara. There was something so compelling about the simplicity of
life in that part of the state, and in the deep, rich family histories
that are indelibly tied to the land. Joern understands this attraction
and these people, and her book is, in a word, lovely.