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A mosaic of reminiscences is tied to water, death, family and renewal.
“Most of [Kloefkorn’s] memoir is a fond immersion in his own childhood and subsequent education, beginning with his near death by drowning a week before he enters first grade and continuing with a series of river journeys and watery sojourns and eventually ending with a Caribbean cruise. But that description hardly does justice to Kloefkorn’s skill as a storyteller. . . . The human interruptions, time spent with his wife and his granddaughter, transform Kloefkorn’s personal reminiscence into something more, something that gestures beyond the page, that places the reader and all humanity within the natural cycles of water and seasons.”—Michael L. Hall, Sewanee Review
— Michael L. Hall
“Kloefkorn is a perfect blend of poet, raconteur, and scholar. He provides breath-taking descriptions of nature, and he quotes fascinating authorities on lands and rivers, including John Neihardt, pioneer James Evans, Mark Twain, and many more. This Death by Drowning, like Kloefkorn’s poetry—perhaps like all poetry—is about the price of wonder. Wonder at nature, wonder at fate, and wonder—finally, luminously—at the miraculous depths and tributaries of the human soul.”—Brent Spencer, Nebraska Life
— Brent Spencer
“Kloefkorn’s style comes not only from long attention to the world, but from sustained immersion in the art and craft of language, and from granting himself the freedom to write at length and in depth about the people and places he cares about most. Such work can rise toward sublime visions of the interconnections of people and place.”—Jeff Gundy, Georgia Review
— Jeff Gundy
Kloefkorn (English/Nebraska Wesleyan Univ.) cites Loren Eisley's dictum, "If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water." The author finds magic in other liquids, too, "chief among them cow's milk," but it is water—and the dangers it can pose—that is Kloefkorn's touchstone, both literary and actual. At the age of six, he fell into Harold Simpson's cow- pasture pond in south-central Kansas and nearly drowned. A few years later his brother, trying to sit behind the wheel of a car submerged in Ely's Sandpit, duplicated the near-fatal mishap. The author writes of his youthful wonder at the family's cistern; of watching his grandmother at a washtub in the backyard, "washing her long white hair in rainwater"; of his and a paraplegic friend's baptism in Shannon's Creek, performed by a preacher whose sermons were, like "Kansas waterways, neither deep nor wide." Kloefkorn notes another baptism that went awry, with the victim drowning, and wonders if it "had been sufficiently and well-enough performed for it to have taken hold and thus last." Some of the waters he treads are larger, or of different form: He recalls learning of the hundreds drowned in the "bespoiled water" of Pearl Harbor; FDR taking the waters at Warm Springs, Ga.; Truman's calling the Hiroshima bomb "a black rain of ruin"; the time he and a friend dropped an M-80 firecracker in the women's toilet at the Baptist church, bringing on a prodigious flood. He writes, also, of favorite rivers, especially Nebraska's Loup, a stream he has floated down every summer for 30 years.
Water drenches these pages, written about in a style that both immerses and quenches.