Magazine article World Literature Today

The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning

Magazine article World Literature Today

The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning

Article excerpt

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Julene Bair. The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning. New York. Viking. 2014. isbn 9780670786046

In this memoir, Julene Bair attempts to weave multiple kinds of love and reckonings together as she informs readers of the rapid depletion of the Ogallala aquifer, a life-giving but vulnerable source of water for the central high plains. Bair's perspective is a critically important one, for she writes from the perspective of a farming family that for many years earned its living from crops irrigated by wells draining the aquifer.

Like Janisse Ray and William Kittredge, Bair sets herself the difficult task of braiding together an evocation of family, a beloved home place, and environmental devastation, adding a love story that only sometimes connects the other strands. Ward, a Kansas rancher, seems to offer the author an oasis in the desert of high plains culture and romance, but ultimately he is nothing more than a mirage. In Ward, Bair sees a way back home, a fulfilling life in the place she lit out from as soon as she could. In Julene, Ward sees a connection to a more sophisticated world, and when he contemplates moving to Laramie, Wyoming, where she works, there is the promise of legitimacy as a cowboy and those mythic Wyoming license plates. When it comes down to it, neither can make the requisite compromises for the fantasies the other has created.

Myths, especially myths of manhood, working landscapes, and the West haunt each generation of this western Kansas family, and Bair's memoir is both most fresh and most powerful when she fully engages these myths. …

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