Will Vaughn, a man of late middle age living in Chicago with his second wife, remembers the month of June 1957 in his hometown, the rural village of New Holland, Iowa. More precisely, Will remembers just a few days of that month and the quick sequence of astonishing events that have colored, ever since, the logic of his heart and the moods of his mind. He tells of his stunningly beautiful young mother, Leanne, who liked to recall the years of the Second World War, during which she sang with a dance band in a lounge in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He tells too of his father, Lewis, a soldier in the war who one night saw the “resplendently sequined” Leanne step onstage and began at that instant to plot his courtship of her.
But mostly what Will summons up in his intimate remembrance are those few catastrophic days in early June when he was “three months shy of twelve,” more than a decade after his parents have married and returned to the Vaughns’ home place, where Lewis farms his family’s land. For it is during those days that Leanne’s affair with a local man named Bobby Markum becomes known—first to Lewis and then, in a fiercely dramatic public confrontation, to young Will, to his beloved Grandmother Vaughn, and by nightfall to all the citizens of the town. The knowledge of such scandal, in so small a place, sets off a series of highly charged reactions, vivid consequences that surely determine the fates of every member of this unforgettable family.
A tale of memory and hero worship and the restless pulse of longing, The Book of Famous Iowans examines those forces that define not only a state made up of a physical geography, but more important, those states of the wholly human spirit.
“The Book of Famous Iowans is a perfect novel—beautifully written and emotionally compelling in a way that made me wish it would never end even as I raced to the next page. I don’t know when I have felt such love and compassion for a cast of characters. I already miss them, and will, I am sure, for a long time to come.”—Jill McCorkle
“You hear a tractor, you smell the ploughed earth, you see the gently rolling Iowa landscape, and most of all Doug Bauer’s dazzling prose makes you feel the sweetness of young Will Vaughn’s love for his beautiful, sparkling mother, a woman doomed to veer away from the people who love her best. The Book of Famous Iowans is a compelling story about the bonds between mother and son which will break your heart as you nod in recognition.”—Susan Cheever
“This book is like the best of Midwestern America—plain and rich without trying. Bauer tells what might have been a common story in other hands. What is uncommon is the utter devotion to the passion of a broken family—such concentration as Dostoyevsky would have admired.”—Barry Hannah