The Middle of Nowhere: TFT Review of Jo Ann Beard’s In Zanesville
Jo Ann Beard officially arrived on the literary scene at the close of the 20th century with her collection of nonfiction essays, The Boys of My Youth, which, as one would expect from a memoir, walked the reader through the progressive stages of her life: childhood, adolescence, adulthood. Dogs die, a husband leaves and a parent is lost. And all of these experiences are analyzed, discussed and dissected–via phone and in person–with her childhood friend Elizabeth.
At the start of the second decade of the 21st century, Beard is back with another book, this time a novel, that takes place entirely in the 1960s of her young adulthood. Following the lead of her first book, In Zanesville (Little, Brown, $23.99) explores the relationship between two very close friends who analyze, discuss and dissect the experiences of (middle school) life, namely: boys, lame parents, obnoxious siblings and menstruation. The difference in this work of fiction is that the friendship is threatened by the pressure of trying to both blend in and stand out while transitioning from childhood to young adulthood.
Beard captures the frustration and exhilaration of this transition so well that I had nightmares of nakedness in junior high locker rooms, missed curfews and failed exams three times while reading her book.
Beard’s protagonist lives in, no surprise here, Zanesville, Illinois, a small town in the Midwest, aka flyover country, farm country or, more simply, The Middle of Nowhere. She’s smart, somewhat innocent but somewhat old for her age, officially in a fringe social group but flirting with the cheerleader crowd (and boys), and she narrates with a dry sense of humor. She reminds me, if I can be totally honest, of myself.
She tries to ensure the safety of her father after he disappeared by bargaining with God. Done that. Ok, so we’ve all done that.
She has one hell of a time figuring out how to use a tampon for the first time. Ditto. Though she manages to shaves years off of my learning curve.
And here’s the best one, the one that made me laugh, ruefully, at myself and at our young narrator: she had an imaginary pony named Moonflame. Mine, unnamed, used to hop around from one light fixture to another in church on Sundays.
These honest little windows into the mind of a ‘tween’ were what kept me coming back to the book. The plot itself is not that complex (spoiler alert): two girls growing up in a small town, their relationship strained by adolescence and budding sexuality. As in life, nothing is really ‘solved’ at the conclusion of the book; life goes on for the two childhood friends, they will still analyze, dissect and discuss what happens to them. But because, on almost every page, I could read something the main character was thinking or feeling and say, ‘Oh yeah. God, I remember that’, I trusted the writer’s voice and also trusted that she would lead me somewhere worthwhile.
For me, the book led to a slightly uncomfortable visitation from my younger self, and a greater appreciation for the adult self which I now inhabit and which can seem so utterly complicated and confusing at times. As an adult, I stress out about the economy, national debt, global warming and world hunger. I worry about making rent and paying the bills on time. I worry about the health of friends who are starting to have encounters with adult sicknesses like cancer and high blood pressure. There’s just so much stuff to deal with.
But Jo Ann Beard’s ‘In Zanesville’ has made me remember: Hell, compared to junior high and high school, this is a piece of cake.
Follow us on twitter@thefastertimes
- 1 First Openly Straight Figure Skater Comes Forward
- 2 Brooklyn Man Now Living Entirely Off Own Beard Garden
- 3 “Cra Cra” Now Official Diagnosis in New DSM (DSM-5)
- 4 OfficeMax Marketing Director Struggling to Make Staplers ‘Sexy’ and ‘Conversational’
- 5 Homeless Guy Woos Silicon Valley VCs with Low-Tech Crowdfunding Startup
- 6 Area Man Tailors Life To Be More Relevant To His Hulu Advertisements
- 7 Fan Banging Furiously on Glass Could Be the Difference in Hockey Playoffs
- 8 Survey: 88% of Eagles Fans Too Drunk To Spell Nnamdi Asomugha Last Season
- 9 Attorney Actually Starting to Believe Own Bullshit
- 10 Local Mom Won’t Stop Being First Person to Like Every Goddamn Thing Son Posts to Facebook