After his first cross-country motorcycle trip, Joe Blair believed he had discovered his true calling. He would travel. He would never cave in to convention. He would never settle down.
Fifteen years later, Joe finds himself living in Iowa, working as an air-conditioning repairman and spending his free time cleaning gutters, taxiing his children, and contemplating marital infidelity. When the Iowa River floods, transforming the familiar streets of his small town into a terrible and beautiful sea, he begins to question the path that led him to this place.Exquisitely observed and lyrically recounted, this is a compelling and often humorous account of an ordinary man’s struggle to live an extraordinary life.
It is always a treat to read about locales I have a common bond with, but Joe took us on trip so much more real than a restaurant I've visited before or roads and intersections I'm very familiar with. He took us to where he lives and he did so with raw honesty and a BOAT load of courage!! The whole experience was a 'pay-no-attention-to-the-man-behind-the-curtain' moment, where just because we see someone one way, so much else is happening. Where the frenzy of a disaster can be a catalyst to stronger construction. Figuratively and literally in the case of By the Iowa Sea.
Joe Blair's writing is an absolute TREAT! He has an uncanny knack for the heart of the moment and kernel of truth in each situation. Be it with his wife, his coworkers, or his devastatingly autistic son. He doesn't sugar coat anything yet there is such artistry in his prose we hear the heartbeat of beauty even in the pain of a heart breaking.
I didn't feel the end of the book was an adequate wrap up. I think I wish he would have waited to publish this book until he ended up back in Iowa (which he did) there would have been a symmetry there. A rainbow, if you will. A new covenant with that dang town and a second chance for that 'river'.
Otherwise, I'm so glad I went to the Iowa City Book Festival and had the privileged of hearing Mr. Blair. And saying hello to his wife and Mike. And I'm so very glad he didn't abandon his talent when life's responsibilities came knocking (and oh how loud they do knock) so we could be treated to this fine book.
I'm so very much hoping he has plans to add a sequel.
My Rating: 4/5
This is a really awful picture of Joe Blair speaking at the Iowa City Book Festival. This event and his reading there introduced me to this work, but I really really wish I would have read the book before I attended. I would have had so very much to ask! Who knows. Maybe I'll see him around :)