My family and I started talking about Minnesota fiction over the holiday weekend. Among the writers who came to mind were William Kent Krueger, Lief Enger, and Lorna Landvik, Tim O’Brien. What they all have in common is there ability to put you in the geography of our state. They all are able to pluck you from where ever you are in the world and put you right down into the heart of the Minnesota landscape.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area is nestled in the crook of where the Minnesota River meets the Mississippi. A journey along the confluence of these two waterways is the backdrop for much of William Kent Krueger’s This Tender Land. You will feel what it means to be out in the elements as a band of youths flee an American Indian boarding school. During a summer on the run, the kids join up with a variety of Minnesotans trying to get by during the waning years of the depression.
Lief Enger’s Peace Like a River is worth every moment you devote to passing your eyes over his pages. His story will trick you. On the journey, he will show you a part of the country closer to Fargo than to Minneapolis. A landscape filled with lakes and hence settled by the Finns and the Swedes and the Norwegian- all looking for fjords but settling, instead, on grassy banks overlooking hundreds of acres of sky-blue waters. Fair warning there is more than a dollop of religion between the lines of Enger’s narrative. His writing is poetic. It creates an atmosphere that is representative of the people and places he describes.
It’s been a while since I’ve read Lorna Landvik’s Patty Jane’s House of Curl. It’s a homey read full of housewife wisdom. But it is set down the sidewalks and through the streets of everyday Minneapolis. The landmarks reorientate you to the city if you’ve been away. The nature and seasonal fluctuations of the north country are there to embrace you.
Tim O’Brien may not seem from this part of the country as he has spent most of the last quarter century in Texas, a long three-day drive from Minnesota. He is also best known for writing about the Vietnam experience, in particular in the fictional book The Things They Carried. But he was raised in southern Minnesota and graduated from Macalester College in St Paul. He penned a book I loved called In the Lake of the Woods.
Following an unsuccessful bid for United State Senate, the protagonist and his wife escape to where every Minnesotan escapes: up north. The boundary waters area of the state is remote and beautiful and remote. When his wife goes missing, there is a tumbling of memories and flashbacks scrolling through his thoughts. But is he telling the reader the whole truth?
There are many famous, perhaps more famous, authors with Minnesota ties. But if you want to visit the land of ten thousand lakes wothout making the journey, I suggest you start here. You can float down the great waterways, stroll the tree lined streets of the city, feel the vast open farmland to the northwest and get lost in the Boundary Waters. Why wait?