Weary from the journalistic treadmill of "going from one assignment to the next, like an itinerant fieldworker moving to his harvests" and healing from a divorce, Douglas Bauer decided it was time to return to his hometown. Back in Prairie City, he helped on his father's farm, scooped grains at the Co-op, and tended bar at the Cardinal. The resultant memoir is a classic picture of an adult experiencing one's childhood roots as a grown-up and testing whether one can ever truly go home again.
"Awkward with soil and with machines," Bauer grew up in a small town east of Des Moines. As a teenager, he left the farm for college life twenty miles away and, after graduation, took a job with Better Homes and Gardens in Des Moines, writing in the junk-mail fictional persona of "Barbara Joyce," asking millions of people to subscribe. After a few years he moved to Chicago to work as an editor and writer for Playboy and eventually as a freelance journalist. In the summer of 1975, he returned home to attend his grandmother's funeral and by autumn he moved back to Prairie City, where he stayed for the next three seasons.
Bauer's book is neither a wistful nostalgia about returning to a simpler time and place nor a patronizing look at those who never leave the town in which they were born. What emerges is an unsentimental yet loving account of life in the Midwest. Not just a portrait of Prairie City, Iowa, but of everyone's small town, everywhere.
"Kindly, shrewd, and endlessly absorbing—this is as good as a book gets."—Bill Bryson
"One of the finest books about place I know, this scrupulously observed, eloquently written, deeply humane, and exemplary work of literary nonfiction captures the mystery of everyday life, in all its grievous darkness and tenderness."—Phillip Lopate
"Bauer's book is, at least, the most brilliant report of an Iowa small town ever written and, at best, may be a masterpiece of any small town anywhere in the Midwest."—Des Moines Sunday Register
"This is a quiet but elegant look at a Midwestern farm community that proves you can go home again."—Playboy