An evocation of the Great Plains and its influence on the human spirit, Dakota describes the harsh, desolate, yet sublime landscape that embodies the contradictions of American life as lived in the small towns where history and myth have become indistinguishable.
Mary Christensen, January 2, 2010 (view all comments by Mary Christensen)
There are as many layers in Kathleen Norris' book "Dakota" as there are changes in the South Dakota weather. The index showing 13, albeit brief, chapters entitled "Weather Report," each for a different date, tips the reader to the importance of weather in this book. There are Ms. Norris' poetic, being-there word pictures of vast prairie, big sky, cyclones and tough winters. There's the contrast of her anticipated life as a writer in New York City to that of a small-town, farm-country resident, public librarian, artist-in-residence in the schools, preacher in a local church and, of course, writer in Lemmon, South Dakota, where there are "far more cattle than people" and not many publishing houses nearby. The stories about Ms. Norris' neighbors and friends in South Dakota are alone worth the read. And even though first published in 1993, Dakota provides a bonus of a compelling and compassionate view of an awesome and challenging part of the American Midwest with a culture foreign to most of us who have never been west of the Mississippi or east of California and which she describes as a "world so at odds with American society," and "[i]n a way,...a microcosm of the tribalism that is reasserting itself in the world." And it makes me want to know if much has changed and whether the Internet has transformed it. Regardless of its age, "Dakota" is an insightful study of culture at a macro and micro level, a meditation with the backdrop of weather, stark contrasts, stories and musings relevant to us all on enduring human concerns about how place shapes who we are and our myths, gossip and truth in small towns, the farm crisis, which persists, her monasticism, the real history of the American frontier, our connectedness to all things, and "having to live with limits."
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