I likely made a number of unfounded claims in that piece, but the one that most pricks my conscious comes near the end of the essay when I aver that I have yet to see a work of literature that really lives up to the reality of contemporary agrarian life–in all its complexity, contradictions, failures and strengths.
At the risk of digging a deeper hole, I’d even go further: I’ve never read a really good novel about the Midwestern grain-belt, from any time period. The great plains have featured in the work of John Steinbeck and Willa Cather. The South has Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor and others. But the region home to our greatest crop production seems conspicuously absent in literature.
It could fairly be said (and has been, by Wendell Berry and others) that this absence could be explained by the absence of people in the grain-belt due to agricultural policies that have favored farm consolidation and resulted in migration to cities. Fair enough. But there’s a story there, and it needs to told, and told well.
For many Americans, rural life–and the values, constraints and struggles that attends it–is foreign. It is literature’s job to bring the foreign close. I want that experience from the new agrarianism. But I haven’t yet had it.
But I want to be corrected! If you’ve read a good book with an agrarian setting, particularly if it involves current realities and/or the midwest, let me know. I am ready to be educated.