The Book of Famous Iowans

Douglas Bauer, Author, Doug Bauer, Author
Douglas Bauer, Author, Doug Bauer, Author Henry Holt & Company $25 (288p) ISBN 978-0-8050-4300-6
Paperback - 246 pages - 978-0-8050-6002-7
Paperback - 246 pages - 978-1-60938-266-7
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Boredom--the boredom of a safe, predictable, stationary, domestic, churchgoing existence--is the foe with which the citizens of 1950s New Holland, Iowa, struggle. One of them, 10-year-old Will Vaughn, is watching his mother (once a nightclub singer on the dazzling stage of Cheyenne, Wyo.) struggle with boredom and lose. Bauer (Dexterity; The Very Air) succeeds in the difficult task of making readers sympathize with this woman and her descent into an adulterous affair with a local baseball star. But he fails to lift the novel above the familiar devices and cliches of its genre, the coming-of-age story. Young Will's trudging trek from innocence to experience approaches self-parody when his wise old grandma initiates him into the Old Yeller-esque mysteries of manhood by teaching him to slaughter a chicken. Bauer meticulously re-creates the atmosphere of a small Midwestern farm town in the 1950s, down to Will's boyish obsession with the wrestler Vern Gagne, but ultimately Will's character remains too relentlessly wide-eyed and simple to be compelling. His Oedipal passion for his beautiful mother and the occasional flash-forward to the events of Will's adult life provide a welcome but all-too-infrequent respite. (Sept.)
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