"Every night when I'm not able to sleep, when scrolls of words and formulas unfold in my mind and faces of those I love, both living and dead, rise from the dark, accusing me of apathy, ambition, self-indulgence, neglect --- all of the accusations just --- and there's no hope of rest, I try again to retrace the street. It's an unpaved street and it's the color of my hand. It's made up mostly of the clayey gumbo from the flat and tilting farmland all around the village so small it can be seen through from all sides, and its ungraded surface is generally overrun with ruts that are slippery and water-filled in spring, ironlike in summer, furred in fall with frost as phosphorescent as mountainy ridges on the moon's crust, and in winter buried beyond all thought except for any thought that clay or gravel or the booted feet of people crossing ice-covered snow above might have. It's the main street of Hyatt, North Dakota, and it's one block long. I lived in Hyatt from the time I was born until I was six and returned only once, at the age of eight, wearing a plaid jacket exactly like my brother's, too light for the weather, and ran up and down this street with changed friends, playing hide and seek between buildings that stand deserted, now that time has had its diminishing effects." (Larry Woiwode, in Beyond the Bedroom Wall)
True, it's a longish first paragraph, but Larry Woiwode is a master of description. Although it has been a decade since I last read this book, I still remember many of its characters and, more than that, the places it describes -- North Dakota, a place so foreign to me that I could not myself conjure up any description to do it justice.
Deserted buildings. Streets the color of my hand. The crunch of booted feet on ice and snow. It's just the beginning of a rich and colorful style that continues throughout the book. He writes well, if densely, so it demands attention, but it is well worth it.
Woiwode, an author who reached his zenith in the late Sixties and Seventies, a part of the New York literary establishment, did what many authors considered a surefire career-ender: he moved to a small town in North Dakota, where he still lives. He continues to write, albeit not so often. He is a Christian, an elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and yet he has never written for the Christian market.
In Beyond the Bedroom Wall, he writes of the life of the Neumiller family of North Dakota and Illinois, a family that struggles with many challenges, all from the context of faith. His is not a linear narrative, so the book is more a series of photographs or stopped moments in this family's life, and rich and detailed photos they are. In just the brief dip into it I made to write this, it's as if my acquaintance with old friends was renewed. I missed them.
I recommend the book -- from beginning to end.