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By the Iowa Sea: A Memoir by Joe Blair

By the Iowa Sea: A Memoir

by Joe Blair

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I haven't felt so irritated by a book since Gone Girl. Blair kept my interest by making me dislike him so. His life with a severely autistic son is undoubtedly difficult but I loathe his actions when the going got tough.

This memoir is brutally honest and sometimes, just TMI. I wonder if his wife actually read it before publication. ( )
  jules72653 | Aug 23, 2013 |
The author bills this book as an examination of how experiencing the Iowa flooding helped him to re-examine his failing marriage and his priorities. However, while this may be a catchy tag to hang the story on, it is not accurate. Instead this is more properly placed in the genre of middle age, coming to terms with reality auto-biography, with a bit of raising a special needs child auto-biography thrown in.

Blair's story is about how he and his wife met and spent the early part of their marriage traveling across country on a motorcycle from Massachusetts until they get to Iowa and decide to plant themselves there and raise a family. In the present, he finds himself in a large house that needs constant maintenance, working as a air-condition/heating/refrigeration repair guy to support his wife and their children, including a son who is severely autistic and needs a great deal of care. He responds to this by having an affair with a pretty writer he meets. In the end he and his wife work through their problems and take another leap into a more adventurous future.

Although the story was pretty mundane, what made me enjoy this book was the beauty of some of the writing. The manner in which the author writes about the beauty of the country as he sees it from his motorcycle or the chaos and calm he sees struggling in his son's face were really moving and elevated a familiar narrative. ( )
  elmoelle | Aug 9, 2013 |
Hoo, boy! Where to even begin trying to describe BY THE IOWA SEA? I believe that Joe Blair's memoir will be a rather controversial book. But here's my two cents' worth. This is a very powerful book. I had trouble putting it down, which is good. But I felt like a voyeur, and I'm not quite sure yet if that's good or bad.

BY THE IOWA SEA is perhaps the most utterly human and nakedly candid look at a marriage as any I have ever read. I started to call it a "troubled" marriage, but then I decided I didn't want to pigeonhole it in any way. Sure Joe and Deb Blair have got their troubles after eighteen or twenty years of marriage, but doesn't everyone? Doesn't that first flame of passion fade for most married folks after that many years - hell, even sooner for many? And the Blair marriage is made even more difficult and problematic by their having to deal with a severely autistic son. And Joe Blair's descriptions of what that entails hold nothing back. Yeah, they have some outside help, with various therapies, special schools and respite workers, but the truth is - and both Joe and Deb are all too aware of this - having an autistic child is kind of a life sentence.

Joe Blair is a pipefitter. He's the HVAC guy that comes to fix your furnace or boiler or air conditioning system. The 'plumber's crack' is never specifically mentioned, but judging from some of the contortions needed for the jobs described, it must show up now and then. But, fortunately for us, Blair is also one hell of a fine writer. There's nothing fancy or artsy-fartsy in his writing. It's plain, direct language, used to its full effect.

Joe misses his wife, Deb - the go-for-it girl she was when he met her back at UMass Lowell. But it's four kids later now, saddled with debts and the monotony and repetitions that make up real life, so of course Deb has changed. So Joe looks around, notices how other women are still attractive, and attracted to him. He even tries to get Deb into the game. He has a rich fantasy life - or he tries to have. Deb is mostly tired all the time. The inarticulate, exhausted, sometimes angry conversations are recreated here with near perfect pitch -

"... what? says Deb. You want to sleep with other women? That's ...

That's not - I begin.

You want to sleep with other women, she says again.

No, I say. Absolutely not. But ... what if I did?

I knew it! she shouts, almost victoriously. Why do you -

No! No! You don't understand! It's not about sex. It's not. It's about ... love.

You want to leave me.

No. That's not what I'm saying. I just want us both to ... choose again. To ... be loved. And to love. You know? I'm trying - ..."

And on and on and round and round until you can nearly feel the pain yourself as you read this stuff; it's nearly palpable. And I just felt for this guy, for this pipefitter, who was so filled up with the malaise of middle-aged disappointment and wondering, "Is this it then? Is this how it's gonna be for the rest of my life?!"

I'm pretty sure that men and women are gonna choose sides when they read this book - Joe or Deb. Because this is perhaps one of the most intimate and real looks into the male mind that's ever been written. Guys will get it. Women will probably not. Most of them will probably think, "Why, you BAStard!" And here, if I try to defend him, I begin to quickly lapse into the same sort of sad inarticulateness that afflicts poor Joe. Maybe it's a guy thing, that need to keep on being, being ... well, a sexual being, ya know?

I guess the thing that worked me up the most about this book is that it is NOT FICTION. It's a memoir, so I gotta believe Joe is doing his confused and inarticulate best to just tell his story. And somehow in the process he sets the story - his and Deb's - against the backdrop of the horrific floods of 2008 which utterly changed and ruined so many lives throughout the midwest. The connections come through. Natural forces, human desires and dreams, and how they all collide, and how things change.

Honestly, I feel like kind of a jerk trying to describe this work. But I'm not alone. Joe Blair himself described it this way to a woman he later had an affair with -

"A book, I said. About love. Well, not really about love. It's about this guy who has lost hope, and then finds it. And it's autobiographical, only not. And it's about faith. And a marriage that has ... well ... to be honest, I don't know what it's about. It's hard to say."

And that sort of sums it up. You know? You just have to read it. And I guarantee it'll suck you in, whether you're a man or a woman. I ended up liking the guy. And I suspect, even though it's very much a 'guy' story, that a lot of women will end up liking him too.

Here's a little postscript. Joe, if you haven't already read it, you should read Fred Haefele's memoir, REBUILDING THE INDIAN - that motorcycle stuff you talked about, ya know? And you and Deb both should try to read NEXT STOP, Glen Finland's memoir about her adult autistic son. I mean if you have time, which you probably don't ... even so. Sheesh! Joe's got me writing like he does now.

Once more. This is one very powerful book. Read it! ( )
2 vote TimBazzett | May 7, 2012 |
This book is about life in all of its beauty and ugliness. A memoir that is at once triumphant and heartbreaking, it is about one man's struggle to remain whole while dealing with raising four children; the youngest son has autism. I recently read an excerpt from this memoir that had been published by the New York Times back in 2009, when the memoir was published. Well written and brutally honest, Mr. Blair writes about even those things that might be better left unsaid, and at times I would have walked away from the book if it had not been so eloquently written. Too much information, for me, can cheapen the message, and when it is truth and not fiction, it can make you feel uncomfortable. I read on, however, and I am glad that I did. The heart of this book is open and exposed, and the imagery and observations are beautifully rendered. Whatever your journey, you will come away from this book with something.

"It's hard to argue with a diagnosis. The truth, after all, is the truth. An Apple, for example, is an apple. There are no odds involved and it doesn't matter what you might believe it to be. You might believe it's a peach. You might believe it's a dirigible. It doesn't affect the apple in the least what you might believe. It's still an apple. It exists. And it is what it is. Tuberous sclerosis, likewise, exists. It is what it is. The above two sentences were very easy to write. And they can be nothing but true. There is no argument that would convince anyone otherwise. Mike exists. And he is who he is. But who he will be cannot be quantified by numbers. The future is up for grabs. And what we believe in; what we pray for; what we hope for has the power to change it." ( )
3 vote Crazymamie | Mar 11, 2012 |
What a compelling and gripping story. I simply could not put this book down. I highly recommend this and I plan on reading it over and over again. I won this book from Goodreads. ( )
  Draak | Mar 11, 2012 |
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Recounts the author's transformation from an idealistic, freedom-loving youth to a jaded and financially struggling father of four and how a catastrophic flood helped him to reconnect with the faith and courage of his childhood.

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