Debra Marquart

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The Horizontal World:Growing up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere

July 3, 2006 -- Counterpoint Press -- Hardcover


The Horizontal World is a biomythography about an agricultural childhood in the rural Midwest.  It follows the story of the impulse toward rebellion and flight that comes with being born to a harsh, beautiful, and isolated place.  A personal record of outmigration, the memoir brings the story full circle, showing how one who is from a rural place like North Dakota can come to terms with its difficult lessons and hard love.


Perhaps it is true that, as Thomas Wolfe wrote, you can’t go home again.  But it must also be equally true, this book argues, that you can’t not go home again.   The Horizontal World is the story of a lifetime push-and-pull, a low-grade feud with one’s homeground.  “Love it or hate it, you cannot shake free,” Scott Russell Sanders wrote.  “You still bear the impression of that first ground.”


In part, a cultural and natural history of the rural Midwest, The Horizontal World draws from mythology and autobiography, then weaves together material from disciplines such as botany, geology, history, and literary criticism.  The result is a narrative that is complex and variegated as the landscape it describes.  It is both personal and political, large enough to encompass the story of deep ambivalence about growing up in the middle of nowhere.


The book reports the feminine story of agricultural life, addressing subjects such as fertility and infertility, of land and of women.  Here, the female body is claimed by agriculture as a means of production, equally as necessary as the land for survival.  “Even as a young woman, growing up imaginative and full of yearning for the larger world,” Marquart writes, “I recognized what would be my eventual fate, and I used all my creative skills and abilities to escape.” The Horizontal World is, in part, a narrative about that flight and the lifelong grief that exile from one’s homeground can bring.


The Horizontal World takes its name from the stark, flatness of the Dakota horizon, a rolling, telluric landscape that serves as a silent witness to passing events.  To this end, the book pulls together prevailing themes and myths about agricultural life: sex as a horizontal pleasure zone; childbirth as a horizontal danger zone; illness and death as a horizontal finality; farming, the planting of even furrows of crops, as a risky and futile horizontal endeavor; and writing, the making of even rows of text on a blank white page, as an act of horizontal survival.

Updated 09/04/06