cover image The Painted Forest

The Painted Forest

Krista Eastman. West Virginia Univ., $19.99 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-949199-19-2

Intriguing and often personally meaningful locations, predominantly in Wisconsin, populate the stylish, meditative essays in Eastman’s debut collection. They include her family home in southwestern Sauk County and the tourist town of Wisconsin Dells, where she spent formative summers as a teenager. The title selection is representative of Eastman’s writing at its best, in using an unexpected setting, here a beautifully muraled meeting house built for an obscure late-19th-century fraternal order, as a jumping-off point. Part history of the house’s onetime owners, the now-forgotten “Modern Woodmen of America,” and part biography of the itinerant artist behind the murals, the essay ends by evoking the contrast between one small town’s former promise and disappointing modern-day reality. Eastman occasionally gets weighed down with ostentatiously scholarly references, but on the whole, her prose is thoughtful and elegant (“We’re aware of our foolishness, aware we might be disappointed, aware the Midwest, like many of the Earth’s places, tilts toward under-imagined and overly caricatured, that it might not be a definite place at all, let alone a concrete navigational direction”). Eastman’s deep fascination with and love of her home state, in all its complexity and eccentricity, permeate this moving book and will live on in the reader’s mind. (Oct.)