By the Iowa Sea by Joe Blair

By the Iowa Sea

288 pages; Scribner
Some memoirs you read for the feelings they inspire, and some you read to find out how in the heck they'll turn out. By the Iowa Sea manages to do both with an understanding of so-called ordinary life so raw and true you'll gasp, and a situation so pressing you'll tear through the pages. The book begins just as the Iowa River is rising (it's soon to overflow onto the small town of Oxford). Alongside this natural disaster, however, is a family crisis—Blair own doubts about his marriage and life. Fifteen years earlier, he and his wife Debra had arrived, dreaming of lives filled with globetrotting and adventure. Now he works as cooling technician; Debra is a paramedic; and they are spend long, brutal days raising their four kids, one of which has autism. What he longs for is freedom, yes, and youth, yes, but also "a passionate type of love. A fearful love. A hungry love. Jealous and violent." As the couple sandbag and change diapers and try to save their relationship (warning to the reader: their intimacies are described in exceptionally intimate detail), Blair reflects on his past, even as he takes risky, even self-destructive steps to alter his future. Some of the most moving, honest scenes are between him and his autistic son Michael, but it's the writer's unflinching reflection about himself and his choices, that make this book. "I had glimpses of the kind of man I should be," he writes. "Such are the reflections we are afforded. Passing glimpses, like small hidden ponds you pass by on your motorcycle while driving on a road you've never traveled before, a pine forest suddenly opening up and then closing again."
— Leigh Newman