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The Horizontal World: Growing Up Wild In the…

The Horizontal World: Growing Up Wild In the Middle of Nowhere

by Debra Marquart

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This memoir about a young woman growing up on a farm in North Dakota and yearning to get away contains literary references. Debra describes her family's history, how they came to possess the land, and what she loved about it. ( )
  Pferdina | Apr 29, 2018 |
After reading just a few lines from the prologue, I knew I'd like this book, and I did. Here are those lines -

"Farmboys. How we avoided them when they came around, their hands heavy with horniness, their bodies thick with longing. Be careful of farmboys, we warned each other. They know how to plant seeds ..."

I was not exactly a farmboy, but I can remember the horniness and the longing. And my grandfather had a small farm very near by, so I did my share of farm chores growing up. Marquart later describes "chores." As in -

"'I've gotta go home and do chores.' Never singular, always plural, a job that interrupts some fun you're having, then grows and grows like polyps in an intestine ... the word chores descirbes a job so unsavory that to spend the energy using two syllables means you'd probably never get around to doing it."

Marquart knows the onerous chores found on every farm - caring for chickens, pigs, cows, haying, cleaning out barns and chicken coops. The list goes on forever. My dad grew up on a farm and he knew chores too. As children, when my brothers and I were being toilet trained and set upon a potty, Dad would encourage us to "do your chores now." Chores then, to us, meant shit. So when our grandparents moved to the farm next door and we would go over to visit our grandmother, and would ask her, Where's Grandpa?, we were always confused when she would reply, "He's out in the barn doing his chores." We wondered why he would do his 'chores' out in the barn when there was a perfectly good toilet in the house. It was one of those mysteries we simply learned to accept. My grandfather was never a very successful farmer, and, like Marquart, my dad left the farm as quickly as possible after fininshing high school. She had given her father ample indications in advance that she "wouldn't be hanging around this dust hole forever." My brothers and I all got out too. We would never had called Grandpa's farm a "dust" hole though, after spending countless hours cleaning out barns, pens and coops with shovels and forks. Because it wasn't 'dust' we were moving. Marquart's portrait of family farming in the 60s was very familiar-sounding then, to this kid who was "nearly" a farmboy, but not quite. Like her, I escaped to college, to forming straight rows of words, sentences and paragraphs rather than rows of crops.

Marquart's family was Catholic too, like mine, and her descriptions of her time at the church and parochial school of St Philip Neri rang especially true, since our church and school in Reed City bore the same sain'ts name. I nearly did a double take when I read St Philip Neri.

The only reason I didn't give The Horizontal World five stars was that I was a bit bored by all the geological, genealogical and historical information she interspersed throughout her narrative of growing up on the plains of North Dakota. Because it was her own story that interested me most, her "wild" years on the road as a singer with various rock bands, and particularly her lifelong struggle with trying to win her parents' approval, expecially her father's, to whom she felt the closest. I could relate. My family too was one not given to outward demonstrations of love. As I read the final chapters about her father's last years and his final illness, tears came to my eyes. Because, yes, I could relate. The last time she saw her father alive, she promised him, "I'Il be back." But she didn't come back until after he was gone and suffered painful pangs of guilt for that. She tells of a dream she had after her father's death, of her father tiny, sick, frail and dying, and sitting beside him weeping.

"'What's wrong?' he asked in that tender voice I remembered from childhood. 'I never came back to see you,' I confessed. 'When you were sick in the hospital. I never told you that I love you.' He took a deep breath and rested his head against the pillow. He waved his hand in dismissal. 'Of course you did,' he said. His voice was a thin breeze moving through an empty chest. Of course you did ..."

And these words made me weep. If you want to read a very moving tale of family relationships and an inescapable attachment to the places where you grew up, then read The Horizontal World. This is a beautiful book. ( )
  TimBazzett | Aug 9, 2009 |
The book jacket copy was what initially made me pick up this book - wonderful design and a perfect image of North Dakota. Although I did not grow up on a farm, the author's experiences being raised in North Dakota really hit home for me. ( )
  keeperoftheoldstuff | Aug 5, 2008 |
Debra Marquart was born to a North Dakota dairy farming family and she got away from the farm and the state just as soon as she could, ready or not. She is the youngest of three sisters and one brother and, in her own judgment, was pretty much a disappointment to her parents until she neared forty years of age. Her career path is an interesting one but it is not one that would make it easy for parents to sleep at night: singer for traveling bands that covered the gamut from country to punk, college dropout, college professor and, now, coordinator of the Creative Writing Program at Iowa State University and musician with a rhythm and blues project called The Bone People.

The Horizontal World is Marquart’s frank account of what it was like for a girl with her temperament to grow up on a farm that that already been in her family for several generations and in a community in which everyone knew exactly who she was and everything about her. Despite her haste in leaving all that behind, Marquart eventually found herself drawn back to that very community in search of a deeper understanding of her roots. She never felt that her parents comprehended who she had become and what her life was like and found herself becoming the daughter that they “knew” when she visited them twice a year. She had not spoken to her father during the last two weeks of his life even though she had promised him that she “would be back” and that is a regret with which she still lives.

This is how she described her awareness that the world had more to offer to those willing to risk leaving the farm:

“I grew up in an almost bookless house, aside from the Betty Crocker cookbook and the gold-embossed row of World Book encyclopedias, which were only good for filling out the details in school reports. Great mysteries lurked out there in the world, I suspected, at which the World Book could only hint.”

I can barely imagine what it would be like to grow up in a place as sparsely populated as the Dakotas but Debra Marquart has vividly described what it is like for “dreamers” in all small towns across America who can’t wait to test themselves against the rest of the world.

Rated at: 3.5 ( )
  SamSattler | Feb 20, 2007 |
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A wry memoir about a family farm, a father, and a daughter, and why it's so hard to go home again. Debra Marquart grew up on a family farm in rural North Dakota--on land her family had worked for generations. From the earliest age she knew she wanted out; surely life had more to offer than this unyielding daily grind, she thought. But she was never able to abandon it completely. In this distinctive memoir, she chronicles this process of flight and return--not only from and to a particular landscape, but to respect and admiration for her father. Poet Marquart offers a deeply intelligent rumination on the meaning of native ground, on freedom and security, and on the forging of identity.--From publisher description.… (more)

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