Heart Can Be Filled Anywhere on Earth: Minneota, Minnesota

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The author of the beloved Coming Home Crazy returns to his hometown and investigates - through the lens of small-town life - what community means to us and the rigid definitions we give to "success" and "failure." Growing up, Bill Holm could define failure easily; it was "to die in Minneota." But when he returned to his hometown ("a very small dot on the ghost of an ocean of grass") twenty years later - jobless, broke, and divorced - he began to uncover its lost histories and to discover more of himself and of ...
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Overview

The author of the beloved Coming Home Crazy returns to his hometown and investigates - through the lens of small-town life - what community means to us and the rigid definitions we give to "success" and "failure." Growing up, Bill Holm could define failure easily; it was "to die in Minneota." But when he returned to his hometown ("a very small dot on the ghost of an ocean of grass") twenty years later - jobless, broke, and divorced - he began to uncover its lost histories and to discover more of himself and of our time. By stepping out of the mainstream into what others regard as a backwater, Holm began to question the pace of our culture and how, in the rush to get ahead, we've lost our roots. Whether tracking the forbidden recipes of Holm's parents or spilling the beans on the scandalous affair of Hester and Art, The Heart Can Be Filled Anywhere on Earth celebrates the connections between us that we both fear and desire. By finding that which is meaningful in the seemingly insignificant, Holm delights us with stories of his town and of our need to belong.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Holm (Coming Home Crazy) is living once again in the small town of Minneota, Minn., where he grew up, and he is feeling sentimental about it. He is a smart writer and has some interesting things to say about sense of place, but there is an underlying softness in his attitude towards his hometown that makes these essays treacly, and no amount of literary references can sharpen them. "God knows I tried to escape, to do the right American thing, making a middle-class life in a gentler, lovelier, more urbane place, some better home for an eccentric intellectual misfit," he insists in an essay that rambles from the cost of living in Minneota to the meaning of the town's name ("much water" in Dakota) to reviewer misprints of the title of his first book, but one gets the feeling he never tried all that hard. The history of the town is much less interesting than the characters that populated it in Holm's childhood, and he devotes much of the book to biography of these characters, many of them originally from Iceland. An essay on the way that children are taught to mistrust strangers today segues into a tribute to the elderly woman who often baby-sat for him; an examination of poverty disintegrates into admiration for how his parents forced him to be kind to Sara Kline, "a Minneota `bag lady,' years before that term became fashionable." It's not that this isn't heartwarming, it's just that it is familiar and sometimes suffers from smugness. (May)
Library Journal
As a youth, Holm defined failure as dying in his hometown of Minneota, Minnesota. He left to see the world, and when he returnedalmost 40, broke, unemployed, divorced, unpublished, and his immediate family deadhome looked better to him. He began to write about the people who were most important to him in his childhood, the old Icelandic immigrants who were his relatives and neighbors in a tiny town on the western edge of Minnesota. In this memoir, we meet them all, including Pauline Bardal, a spinster without formal education who introduced the author to music and the piano, and Virgil Voltaire Gislason, a dandy and bon vivant who delighted in serving proper martinis, even during Prohibition. A fine writer with a wry, self-deprecating style, Holm has done what many authors aspire to do: make the dead live again. In doing so, he has produced a memoir that considers the question of what constitutes success in a culture infused with the immigrant desire to rise in the New World. Highly recommended for public libraries.Caroline A. Mitchell, Washington, D.C.
Kirkus Reviews
After living all over the US and teaching in China, Holm (Coming Home Crazy, not reviewed) reapplies himself with gusto and grandiloquence to life as lived in his hometown, the minute Minneota, Minn.

"The Music of Failure," the book's centerpiece essay, showcases most of Holm's themes: the values of the local past, the particulars of family chronicles, the uses of memory, and, in contrast to these qualities, America's rootless lack of history and its obsession with individual success. Having met with failure, however, the author argues that failure is as American as success, and that memory, to be complete, must include those whose failures generally relegate them to obscurity. Holm focuses on the Bardals, a family of Icelandic immigrants who were never an all-American success story, dying out in rural poverty after a century in Minnesota. Pauline Bardal, the last survivor (whom Holm knew as a boy), nonetheless had her own virtues: laconic stoicism, natural charity, and even a minor talent for playing the organ. The author sketches two further examples of virtue in failure: Sara Kline, the town bag lady, to whom the young Holm was still required to show courtesy, and his Aunt Ole, whose romantic cheerfulness prevailed over genteel poverty. And he celebrates the qualities his austere Icelandic ancestors brought to the New World, including a love of literacy and hidden sociability. Holm occasionally provides some interesting contrasts with these musings on family and small-town characters and events by juxtaposing various of his experiences in China. But his exhaustive reaffirmation of his own "from-ness" curiously cuts out his experience of the rest of America in a sometimes ostentatious localism.

Holm's frequent invocations of Walt Whitman and Tom Paine sometimes overtax the small-town context, but at their best, these essays make a virtue of parochialism.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781571312099
  • Publisher: Milkweed Editions
  • Publication date: 3/15/1996
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 258
  • Product dimensions: 5.54 (w) x 8.41 (h) x 0.83 (d)

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