Joe Blair By the Iowa Sea: A Memoir

ISBN 13: 9781451636055

By the Iowa Sea: A Memoir

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9781451636055: By the Iowa Sea: A Memoir
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An exquisitely written memoir about the heartbreaks and ecstasies of marriage and fatherhood by a talented new writer from the University of Iowa MFA program.

The anticipated debut 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 life in the Midwest.

After his first cross-country motorcycle trip, Joe Blair believed he had discovered his true calling. He would travel. He would never cave in to convention. He would never settle down.

Fifteen years later, Joe 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. “Our history,” he writes, “gains more weight day by day. And the future seems more and more unlikely to be anything cool at all.” Joe believes it would take an act of great faith or courage to revive in him the passion and promise that once seemed so easy to come by.

What it takes, he discovers, is a disaster. When the Iowa River floods, transforming the familiar streets and manicured lawns of his neighborhood into a terrible and beautiful sea, he 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. Joe Blair lays bare the moving, hopeful story of a river that becomes an ocean and a love that is lost and found again, by the Iowa Sea.

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About the Author:

Joe Blair is a pipefitter living in Coralville, Iowa with his wife and four children. His essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Iowa Review.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

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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