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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Dusty Jacket Book Reviews: Good Roots: Writers Reflect on Growing Up in Ohio

Posted By on Thu, Aug 30, 2007 at 10:47 AM

(Sporadic book reviews from a really slow reader and cable-TV junkie. The first in an occasional series, maybe.) Good Roots: Writers Reflect on Growing Up in Ohio, edited by Lisa Watts, published by Ohio University Press. From $12 and up online. This painfully nostalgic anthology is chock full of the biggest hitters from Ohio's literary pantheon: Akron's Rita Dove; Shaker Heights' Susan Orlean; teen scream novelist R.L. Stein; Hudson's Ian Frazier of New Yorker fame; Lorain's Michael Dirda; and others. The book is divided into three sections based on the distinct geographies of Ohio, from the soot-covered mills of "City Sensibilities" to the salamanders and sycamores of "In Fields and Woods." While Susan Orlean quickly sketches a day at the pool during her painful pubescence, Ian Frazier elaborates on his final escape from the stillness of Hudson's manicured hills, and Mary Oliver dedicates stanzas to illiterate grandmothers standing in kitchens. By the end of the book's 201 pages, you can safely say that you've traversed every corner of our great state in perfect prose. But what makes this collection of stories so fascinating is not the obvious portraiture of iconic industry or woods. It's how each writer's relationship with the Buckeye state has contributed to their literary success, for better or worse. R.L. Stein writes that his Columbus suburb was so boring that he spent most of his time in his head, dreaming up his morbid worlds. Elizabeth Dodd talks about overcoming her native shame to realize that, upon leaving it, she couldn't get this sticky world out of her blood. Needless to say, most of the authors in this book left Ohio long ago. In the end, their backward gaze gives the book the solemnity of a dead uncle's memorial. Most of them reminisce over an Ohio that no longer exists, and many claim they could never return. It's sort of a slap in the face to a reader whose zip code still begins with a 44. But it's also pretty cool to realize how much talent has been bred by this oft-forsaken state. -- Denise Grollmus

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