House of Steps: Finding the Path Home

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9780670882373: House of Steps: Finding the Path Home
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The author of Going to Ground describes her journey from Georgia back to northeast Kansas, where she and her dogs set up housekeeping, in entertaining essays that detail her encounters with the woods, wasps, roaches, and the wonders of the natural world. Tour.

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There are dozens of "finding home" memoirs on the shelves these days, accounts by men and women who, tired of fast-lane life and following Henry Thoreau's footsteps, make for the countryside to raise barns, sheep, and families. Only a few of these well-intentioned autobiographies (notably Linda Hasselstrom's Feels Like Far) are set on the Great Plains, that huge, ego-deflating ocean of grass that runs from northern Canada to the Mexican border.

With House of Steps, Georgia-bred writer and radio commentator Amy Blackmarr stakes her literary claim to a little slice of the Plains, an old farm on the outskirts of Lawrence, Kansas. Her house, she writes, was "built by a flower child as the 1960s faded," and it's a ramshackle creation indeed, full of odd angles, staircases that lead to paralyzing heights (whence her title), and unmapped nooks and crannies--just the sort of place where a curious person could find plenty of ways to pass the time. In vignettes that betray their origins as radio sketches, Blackmarr recounts her days of getting to know the ways of the landscape, the passing seasons, the flora, and especially the fauna, among which prominently figure ill-tempered wasps, spiders, and field mice. Her memoir has many charms, including her meditation on the silence that accompanies a life alone in the far countryside, a life sometimes fraught with danger but more often laced with wonder. --Gregory McNamee

From Kirkus Reviews:

Flashes of brilliance illuminate stretches of humdrum nature writing and earnest introspection from essayist Blackmarr. In Going to Ground (1997) Blackmarr sold her Kansas City paralegal business and retreated to her family's Georgia farm. ``Returning to Georgia was my withdrawal from the world,'' she writes, but Kansas (where she now holds a graduate fellowship at the University of Kansas) ``brought me back.'' Well, part way back. Ever headstrong and aloof, she keeps her distance in rural McLouth, living in a funky house that's a monument to 1960s flower power, ``an M.C. Escher graphic that actually exists in all three dimensions.'' Despite its charms, the drafty rustic abode, known locally as the Tree House, ``was not, after all, something the Keebler elves would live in,'' Blackmarr soon learns. But it does provide isolation and abundant access to nature. Trading her Georgia pond for Kansas prairie grass, she still hews the Thoreauvian line, viewing isolation as a way to draw closer to humanity rather than escape it. No ascetic, Blackmarr abandons attempts to fast in the Kansas heat and instead watches TV and eats Girl Scout cookies. She reveres the natural world around her rural home even as she fights it, battling spiders, wasps, and an unruly lawn with the grim determination of a suburbanite. Her stubbornnessdisplayed in Kansas and in flashbacks to her life in Georgiais a recurring theme. Blackmarr is no Annie Dillard, though, and her digressive, loose-jointed reflections on life in a small place often spawn breathless writing about fairly unremarkable things. At other times, she drills an image perfectly, as when she compares her own sense of dispossession as a Southerner in Kansas to ``a Faulkner character in a cowboy song.'' Subtitle aside, differences between southern and midwestern life are addressed only superficially. This slender book is ultimately a lot like the house it was written in: whimsical, apparently arbitrary, and frequently out of plumb, it somehow stands up. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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9780865549128: HOUSE OF STEPS

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ISBN 10:  0865549125 ISBN 13:  9780865549128
Publisher: Mercer University Press, 2003
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