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Midwest shapes authors’ works

  • Eagle correspondent
  • Published Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012, at 7:03 a.m.

Tales of growing up in the Midwest run through two recently released books — one fiction, one memoir. Jim Heynen and Jeremy Jackson will speak about their works Thursday at Watermark Books and Cafe.

Heynen grew up on a farm in Iowa. Jackson also lived on a farm — but in Missouri. Both men hold bittersweet memories of their childhood havens, and both left their hometowns.

Heynen works through his memories by way of a fictional character — Alice Krayenbraak in “The Fall of Alice K.” Jackson chose to expose his past through his nonfiction work, “I Will Not Leave You Comfortless.”

Both men rely heavily on memory of both place and character.

“She (Alice K.) doesn’t experience anything I didn’t experience,” Heynen said. “I came from that tradition.”

Alice K., like her author, was raised as a Dutch Calvinist. Alice K. is intelligent, athletic and witty. She loves school, and she loves her sister who has special needs. Alice K. also loves Nickson Vang, a new kid and a Hmong immigrant.

“I’m trying to show two young people’s struggles with the establishment by showing a relationship against their religious and family background,” Heynen said.

Jackson also is dealing with relationships. When he was 11, his grandmother died and his sister went to college. That same year, Jackson experienced a first love.

The monumental events in the author’s life are set against the day-to-day life experiences of a small-town Missouri farm boy.

“It’s about ordinary lives with ordinary people,” Jackson said. “It’s a deeply Midwestern story about changes in farm families and changes in farming.”

Although much of the memoir takes place in the 1980s, Jackson draws the reader back to the 1940s when, because of economic conditions, his family was forced to move to Kansas City. Jackson describes what life was like for rural families living in an urban environment during the war.

Both authors chronicle the weather, the landscape and the characters that reside in a homogeneous Midwestern farming community. Both the novel and the memoir delve into family dynamics and intergenerational relationships. Heynen’s novel focuses on the dynamics of two different cultures, including belief systems and cultural differences.

Heynen shows how both cultures deal with guilt, rituals and loss.

“She (Alice K.) realizes that one of the things that make her different from the Hmong people is guilt,” Heynen said. “All of the stages of guilt start wrenching her.”

Alice K. learns grace. Jackson triumphs over tragedy.

Both books focus on family, community and landscape and how young adults are transformed through relationships. Although both authors have written young adult novels, they said these books have more sophisticated storytelling and stronger detail.

Heynen is best known for his “The One-Room Schoolhouse: Stories About the Boys” and “Boys House: New and Selected Stories.”

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