By the Iowa Sea: A Memoir

By the Iowa Sea: A Memoir

3.6 12
by Joe Blair
     
 

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Heralding the arrival of an original American voice, By the Iowa Sea is a wrenching, unsentimental account of the heartbreaks and ecstasies of marriage, fatherhood, and small-town Midwestern life.

After his first cross-country motorcycle trip, Joe Blair believed he had discovered his calling: he would travel; he would never cave in to convention; he would never

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Overview

Heralding the arrival of an original American voice, By the Iowa Sea is a wrenching, unsentimental account of the heartbreaks and ecstasies of marriage, fatherhood, and small-town Midwestern life.

After his first cross-country motorcycle trip, Joe Blair believed he had discovered his calling: he would travel; he would never cave in to convention; he would never settle down. Fifteen years later, he finds himself living in Iowa, working as an air-conditioning repairman and spending his free time cleaning gutters, taxiing his children, and contemplating marital infidelity. When the Iowa River floods, transforming the familiar streets of his small town into a terrible and beautiful sea, Joe begins to question the path that led him to this place.

Exquisitely observed and lyrically recounted, this is a compelling and often humorous account of an ordinary man’s struggle to live an extraordinary life.

Editorial Reviews

Elle Magaizne
"Eloquently gritty"
Shelf Awareness
"[A] powerfully moving and redemptive account of... reckoning with disasters both natural and personal...[that] hits something close to the divine."
New York Times Book Review
A memoirist with a poet’s soul, [Blair] takes what is arguably the most mercilessly exploited natural resource in all of literature and replenishes it. Blair has an autistic son, Michael…and it is their love story that lends the tempest... and this memoir its observational virtuosity.”
Iowa Press Citizen
"Engrossing, thoughtful, startlingly honest, and, ultimately, hopeful."
Oprah.com
“Some memoirs you read for the feelings they inspire, and some you read to find out how in the heck they’ll turn out. By the Iowa Sea manages to do both with an understanding of so-called ordinary life so raw and true you’ll gasp, and a situation so pressing you’ll tear through the pages. The writer’s unflinching reflection about himself and his choices make this book.”
Bookpage
"A beautifully written story about marriage, responsibility and caring for an autistic child."
From the Publisher
"Blair put away his motorcycle and his dreams to do manual labor while supporting four children, one of whom is autistic. Rekindling a sense of purpose took something big: a terrible flood. Not a whiny work; fresh, plain-spoken, and down to earth. Definitely try."
--Library Journal

“A devastating flood provides the backdrop for Joe Blair's moving memoir about crisis and change. If you want to understand how a good man can resolve the conflict between his youthful dreams and his adult sense of duty, read this book. His honesty about the real challenges of marriage and parenting is startling in the best sense, and shot through with refreshing humor.”

--Julie Metz, author of The New York Times bestselling memoir, Perfection

“Joe Blair's passion and courage are evident on each page of By the Iowa Sea. He is among those rare writers brave enough to risk everything for his work and the result is this hypnotic, electrifying book.”

--Alexander Maksik, author of You Deserve Nothing

“Blair’s thoughtful memoir displays the strengths and resilience of committed lovers in a tumultuous relationship.”
--Publishers Weekly

“Joe Blair’s voice is uncommonly perceptive, startlingly honest, and powerfully moving. This is eloquence born of pain, sharpened by humor, and burnished, finally, by understanding and redemption.”
--Ethan Canin, author of Emperor of the Air and America, America

“By the Iowa Sea is a sometimes angry, often startling, and always riveting journey through infidelity, drinking, storms, work, beauty, and the simultaneous frustration and sublimity of raising a disabled child. Blair's writing is vivid, his subjects are heartbreaking, and his ending is flat-out gorgeous.”
--Anthony Doerr, author of Memory Wall

"Joe Blair portrays family life and his own emotional life with tremendous courage and a searing honesty. I admired the prose and the story as I read. I finished the book admiring the man.”
--Chris Offutt, author of The Same River Twice

“An intimate, startling memoir that honors and elevates our quotidian existence. With his contagious curiosity as to what drives him and what holds him back, Blair writes fearlessly and beautifully about the family he loves and also betrays, the people he treasures and plots to escape from. By The Iowa Sea is funny and unsettling, painful and rock and roll romantic, and it has the invigorating ring of truth on every page.”
--Scott Spencer, author of Endless Love and Man in the Woods

“Joe Blair writes with uncommon openness and pain about the pleasures and difficulties of marriage. He also conjures the beauty of the Iowa landscape--even under water. By the Iowa Sea includes one of the most touchingly funny sex scenes--or should I say--non-sex scenes I’ve read. I am sure women and men will respond to his voice.”

--Anne Taylor Fleming, author of Marriage: A Duet and As If Love Were Enough

The New York Times Book Review
A memoirist with a poet's soul, [Blair] takes what is arguably the most mercilessly exploited natural resource in all of literature and replenishes it. And he manages the feat in territory that could scarcely be more familiar: the storm surge of unruly passion and the lure of adultery at hetero­sexual midlife that threaten to undo a family.
—Paul Festa
Library Journal
A startling, bleak, and thoroughly honest memoir from husband and father Blair, it documents a flood, a marriage in danger, a family in flux, and an inscrutable but mesmerizing boy whose developmental disabilities make his parents’ life a kind of hell but whose lovely, undulating patterns, which he traces in the dirt of their backyard, will stay with readers long after they finish the book. While the midlife-crisis memoir might seem typical, this one isn’t. (LJ12/11)—Molly McArdle

(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews
One man's midlife crisis surrounding love, marriage and parenthood. As a child, Blair imagined his adulthood including motorcycles and the freedom to come and go as he pleased. Years later, he was tied down with a heating-and-air-conditioning repair job, a wife, four children (one of them severely autistic), a mortgage and no motorcycle. He was living the placid life of a middle-aged man whose dreams had been set aside. Blair's existence had settled into a daily rut, and he believed that only "an act of great faith or courage [would] change [his] circumstances when [his] life [was] nothing but a repetition." Every day was centered on work and the constant struggle to help his autistic son maneuver through his life. Blair's honest writing recounts the relentless need to be there for Michael through his seizures and tantrums, and the inner turmoil he felt toward his son--loving the child during tender moments of play and angry at other times when things just couldn't be normal, which caused Blair to feel he was inadequate as a parent. The author's need for a change became more urgent. Excessive drinking and sexual fantasies of his wife with another man were not enough, and Blair, desperate for an escape route, turned to another woman, finding passion and excitement in her arms. Internal confusion over his infidelity collided with the outer reality of his wife's anger, and the resulting changes surprised even the author. The author candidly examines his relationships with his wife and family and the changes they went through to stay together.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781451636062
Publisher:
Scribner
Publication date:
03/05/2013
Pages:
277
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.38(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

By the Iowa Sea
IT BEGINS WITH RAIN. An innocent enough thing. Rain and rain and rain. Day after day of it. Through February and March and April and May. Forcing us to seek out shelters that will soon, in some cases, be transformed into pontoon boats. While the rain beats down on the roofs of Iowa City and Cedar Rapids and Marengo and Oxford Junction like bouncing hammers, the unstoppable thing is happening. The rivers rise up out of their banks, lifting our neat little split-entry lives from their foundations, tearing away electrical hookups and gas hookups and phone lines, bringing us to a place where there are no riverbanks and no street names and nothing else that resembles a city. The rivers will become oceans. And Deb and I will become not lost in the oceans but a part of them: suddenly vast. Subordinate to none. Scooping and hungry.

The wind comes unevenly in cold down-rushes and everyone at the Coral Ridge Mall knows that something unusual is about to happen. If the raindrops were chickens or pancakes, I don’t think we would be surprised. Because anything is possible. The small trees outside Barnes & Noble are showing the undersides of their leaves, their branches confused as to which way to go, pushing downward and then upward and then twisting clockwise. People are gathered in the very place the voice on the intercom tells us not to gather: in front of the large plate-glass windows. We can see everything from here. The crosswalk sign bending sideways. The racing clouds. But it isn’t enough for me. I want to be in the storm. I want to smell it and hear the wind and feel the first enormous raindrops hit my skin. I’m hungry for that.

I push through the heavy doors and wait outside the entrance. The storm excites me. It excites us all. Even though we have worried expressions on our faces, we don’t move from the windows. Because we want the change to come. We all want it. We are on our phones to wives or husbands or children. “Are you in the basement?” “Stay inside!” “Stay away from the windows!” These are the things we say. The sky looks the way ocean waves must look from the bottom of the sea. We are starfish looking up at the waves. And it intrigues us that there is such power in the world. Power enough to twist trees like corkscrews. To rip us all up by the roots.

A blast of wind staggers me. I catch myself from falling by grabbing the crosswalk sign, itself less than stable, oscillating wildly on its channeled steel post. One drop, the size of my hand, in the middle of the crosswalk. Another drop somewhere on the sidewalk. Then hundreds of drops all at once. Then thousands. Falling hard. Drawn to the ground as if by magnetic force. I step back beneath the entrance, afraid. The hunched figure of a woman rushes through one of the double doors clutching a paper bag to her chest and holding one hand over her head, as if to keep her wig on. “Smells like rain!” she shouts over the sound of the mad charge of water from the sky as she bustles past me into the storm. I smile. I take a deep breath. And then I laugh. Because she’s right. It does smell like rain.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Blair put away his motorcycle and his dreams to do manual labor while supporting four children, one of whom is autistic. Rekindling a sense of purpose took something big: a terrible flood. Not a whiny work; fresh, plain-spoken, and down to earth. Definitely try."

—Library Journal

“A devastating flood provides the backdrop for Joe Blair's moving memoir about crisis and change. If you want to understand how a good man can resolve the conflict between his youthful dreams and his adult sense of duty, read this book. His honesty about the real challenges of marriage and parenting is startling in the best sense, and shot through with refreshing humor.”

—Julie Metz, author of The New York Times bestselling memoir, Perfection

“Joe Blair's passion and courage are evident on each page of By the Iowa Sea. He is among those rare writers brave enough to risk everything for his work and the result is this hypnotic, electrifying book.”

—Alexander Maksik, author of You Deserve Nothing

“Blair’s thoughtful memoir displays the strengths and resilience of committed lovers in a tumultuous relationship.”

—Publishers Weekly

“Joe Blair’s voice is uncommonly perceptive, startlingly honest, and powerfully moving. This is eloquence born of pain, sharpened by humor, and burnished, finally, by understanding and redemption.”

—Ethan Canin, author of Emperor of the Air and America, America

“By the Iowa Sea is a sometimes angry, often startling, and always riveting journey through infidelity, drinking, storms, work, beauty, and the simultaneous frustration and sublimity of raising a disabled child. Blair's writing is vivid, his subjects are heartbreaking, and his ending is flat-out gorgeous.”

—Anthony Doerr, author of Memory Wall

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