"Piety, kitsch, self-importance, sentimentalism - these deadly literary sins seem to thrive on good clean country air," writes William Finnegan in his foreword to William Gruber's book, On All Sides Nowhere. Finnegan hails Gruber for avoiding these sins in his memoir of life in northern Idaho.
In 1972, Gruber and his wife moved from
Philadelphia to Alder Creek, "an area sparsely settled even for
Idaho," seeking "ascetic isolation from the press of human
culture." Instead, in his quest for backcountry solitude, the
author gains a sense of community, and learns survival skills
ranging from backwoods logging to car
Gruber lauds the ingenuity, frugality and
endurance of his wry and wily neighbors, and writes proudly of
their acceptance of him and his wife. As years pass, the author
gains his own set of backwoods sensibilities, and defends shooting
grizzlies and "wildcat logging" - the removal of downed timber from
lands owned by timber companies, railroads and the government.
Although Gruber is busy earning his graduate degree at the
University of Idaho, and later a doctorate from Washington State,
he learns more at home at Alder Creek and in the woods than he does
in lecture halls.
After seven years, Gruber, his
wife and their two daughters - both born in Idaho - leave when he
is offered a teaching position at a college in Illinois. While he
does not sell his cabin, Gruber's relationship with Alder Creek and
Idaho diminishes, and he and his family are demoted to "summer
But even if Gruber's life and stories
from Alder Creek stand above kitsch and sentimentalism, his book is
still a self-proclaimed "love song." Alder Creek infects Gruber,
and he reminisces of "a Western environment that was in some ways
more cinematic than actual." Despite full immersion in the naked
elements of a backwoods life, Western romance still colors his
thoughts and life.
On All Sides
Nowhere, William Gruber. Houghton Mifflin Company,
Mariner Books, New York, N.Y., 2002. Softcover: $12. 126 pages.
Winner, Bakeless Prize, Bread Loaf Writers'
A slap of Western reality
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