River Bend Chronicle: The Junkification of a Boyhood Idyll and the Curious Glory of Urban Iowa

Ben Miller. Univ. North Carolina/Lookout Books, $17.95 trade paper (468p) ISBN 978-0-984-9000-0-8
In this overlong, though funny and beautifully crafted collection of essays masquerading as a memoir, Miller lays bare his own family’s unhappiness and his own coming-of-age in Davenport, Iowa, a depressed Mississippi River town that is birthplace of the great jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke and home to the twin sisters Blanche and Sadie, who regale the young Miller with tales of Flannery O’Connor, whom Blanche had met at the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop. A canny portrait artist, Miller paints both sad and humorous pictures of the town’s denizens, including his neighbor, Mr. Hickey, who counsels Miller in matters from sport and exercise to literature over sips of Sanka and 7UP, and Mr. Creighton, Miller’s best friend’s father, an inveterate inventor determined to patent and sell mail-order ice rinks to the world. As a young boy, Miller becomes the youngest member of the local Writers’ Studio, in which he catches the writing bug and wants to “make it in the Beauty and Truth racket.” Eventually, he recognizes that “writing for me was one way of living—of utilizing life’s gift... writing has always been my best shot at synthesis, at regaining a happy wholeness lost to the strangest circumstances.” Miller’s affecting chronicle reveals the often messy ways that families fall apart and the way that writing acts both as remembrance and redemption. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/21/2013
Release date: 03/01/2013
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