Reviews for Flatness and Other Landscapes : Essays

Booklist Monthly Selections - #2 December 1999
In both his fiction and his nonfiction, Martone seeks to convey the spirit of his underrated home turf, the Midwest. Here, in no-nonsense, deeply felt, and dryly humorous essays, he rejects the tired image of the heartland, suggesting that the Midwest is more like skin, a level spread where people sense "the monotonous feel of feelings." Martone parlays this arresting observation into captivating meditations on flatland life, describing family farms where tradition is challenged by the bullying demands of corporate agriculture, and towns that fantasize about tourist dollars rather than focusing on strengthening their communities. The son of an English teacher and a teacher of literature himself, Martone is fascinated by how mythologies define place. He boldly compares the tales of ancient Greece with stories of Indiana, particularly of Fort Wayne, which is his hometown and that of the great popularizer of Greek myths, Edith Hamilton. Midwest art and literature, the Mississippi and the Great Lakes, and the region's love affair with aviation round out Martone's creative tour of an unassuming yet truly vital place. ((Reviewed December 15, 1999)) Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews

Library Journal Reviews 2000 January #1
This slim volume, winner of the Associated Writing Programs Award for Creative Nonfiction, envelopes the reader in the "flat" geography of the Midwest. As Martone, a native of Indiana who often writes of his home state, says, "It is flat for the people who drive through, but those who live here begin to sense a slight unevenness." In this book, he writes about everyday towns, filled with everyday people. He describes the landscape with such passion that his essays become like word-paintings, and its inhabitants seem like characters in a film. Martone's autobiographical style works as a welcoming entry into the life of the American heartland. He employs popular culture, literature, and classical mythology, educating us along the way about the planting season, windmills, and mechanized cow-milking. This delightful train ride across the Midwest is highly recommended for all libraries.--Cynde Bloom Lahey, New Canaan Lib., CT. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 1999 December #3
Here is an ode to the farming life that is most eloquent when it is most down-to-earth. These essays (previously published in small magazines and anthologies) reflect on the inner and outer territories of the Midwest. What keeps the reader's interest alive is Martone's keen eye for the uncanny details of ordinary life in an agricultural community. His depiction of how the system of vacuum pipes acts in an automatic milking machine (the pipe "runs around the barn, circles over the stalls like a halo"), his description of the process in which pigs' needle teeth and tail are snipped (so they don't bite each others' tails off when they're crowded into a pen), his account of "walking the beans" (weeding the rows of crop beans by walking up and down with a special hoe topped with a wick dipped in an extremely potent herbicide)--all these draw the reader into a world that seems simultaneously familiar and utterly alien. Where Martone (Seeing Eye) falters in passages in which he tries to muse upon the inner lives of ordinary Midwesterners. His attempt, while teaching a course on rural and agricultural literature, to locate the grandeur of agricultural life by linking the Iowa farmer with Odysseus on his return from the Trojan war rings false, and his comparison of Indianapolis to the ancient city of Sparta is equally forced. Most off-putting are the self-conscious passages in which Martone reflects upon his own reflections upon storytelling; here he devolves into a tangential meta-narrative that utterly undoes the spell cast by his more concrete and insightful real-life descriptions. (Jan.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.