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The Summer of Ordinary Ways


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Stain You Red (Summer 1983); Burn to Black (Summer 1993); Cockleburs in the Laundry (Summer 1984); Brewing (Summer 1982); Brimstone (Summer 1985); Courting the Milkman (Summer 1988); Rooted Here (Summer 1984); Vanity and the Immaculate Heart (Summer 1988); Caterpillar Hunting (Summer 1983); The Summer of Ordinary Ways (Summer 1982).


Helget's debut begins with a staggering example of her father's brutality: he mercilessly beats a cow to death for not weaning her calf. Yet Helget refuses to succumb to a "woe is me" attitude, and she layers vignettes to create a lyrical story of growing up on a Minnesota farm in the 1980s, where her mother verges on insanity, her five unruly younger sisters get underfoot, and death is a familiar part of life. The memoir's charm lies in Helget's dulcet use of language; even as she describes the century-old death of a little girl accidentally buried alive, her words sing: "Colors explode behind her lids, the colors of poppies and apples and straw and cantaloupe and leaves and Monarchs and stars and sky. And yet... she struggles to open her eyes.... it's black where she is." The amalgamation of reminiscences appears random until the final piece, in which Helget weaves an account of her child self with that of her adult self, providing context for the previous memories. Pregnant and married at 19, lonely and isolated, Helget tantalizes with a brief peek at her adulthood, but it's enough, because the glimpses into her younger life so satisfyingly explain who she has become. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Watching her father kill a dairy cow with a pitchfork is one of many memories Helget (winner, 2004 Speakeasy Prize for Prose) recalls in her first book, a memoir of her childhood. Readers will find her experiences growing up on a dairy farm the eldest of six girls a very humbling experience and will feel the children's pain as Helget recalls them watching their father come home drunk and in a rage, shoot all 13 of their puppies, and eventually leave them; and their mother always pregnant and angry and burning all of dad's things. Also scattered throughout the book are recipes for corn whiskey and dandelion and rhubarb wine. Though seemingly sad and absurd, this story revolving around Helget's childhood and eventually her dealings with her own family as an adult is actually very heartening. Recommended for all public libraries.-Tina Stepp, Henerson Cty. P.L., NC Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

"Helget wrings intensity from the seemingly mundane--a family farm, the kitchen, a sleepy Midwestern town--to recreate a past that lives on somewhere between a dream and a nightmare. In "The Summer of Ordinary Ways, every detail is authentic and resonant, every moment feels lived. Helget's debut is nothing short of remarkable." --Rosellen Brown, author of "Tender Mercies

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