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“With Willa Cather and William Maxwell, Curtis Harnack knows, as he writes, that ‘we can never be, in most respects, anybody other than we always were from the very beginning.’ With that understanding as his sensibility’s infallible sextant, Harnack explores in meticulous prose the complicated path from who he was at the beginning to who he became. In the process he gives us both the story of one man’s way from his rural Iowa roots out into the world and also, by vivid implication, an evocative mapping of that complex journey as it has occurred ancestrally, locally, regionally, nationally. In other words, as it has happened, for better and for worse, to us all.”—Douglas Bauer, author, Prairie City, Iowa: Three Seasons at Home
“I must call attention to this moving, brilliant memoir. . . . Every chapter contains scenes which demonstrate the strangeness of daily experiences, the oddity of ordinary life. . . . [Harnack] is a ghost confronting other ghostly presences. Thus his memoir becomes a haunted document—aren’t all documents haunted?—and this very fact attacks our longing to know our beginnings, our desire to search our ‘mental attics.’”—Irving Malin, Contemporary Literature
“Curtis Harnack is Iowa’s Willa Cather.”—Ned Rorem
In The Attic, his sequel to the classic We Have All Gone Away, Curtis Harnack returns to his rural Iowa homeplace to sift through an attic full of the trash and treasures left behind by the thirteen children in two generations who grew up in the big farmhouse.
The adult Harnack had been making pilgrimages to his past from various parts of the country for thirty-plus years; now the death of an uncle and the disposal of an estate bring him home once more. The resonant diaries, church bulletins, photos, newspaper clippings, and other memorabilia in the attic allow him to rediscover both personal and universal truths as he explores the enduring legacies of home, family, and community.
Finally, discovering a cache of letters written home while he was in the Navy in the mid 1940s, he confronts a stranger—his younger self. Harnack’s “dream-pod journey . . . from who I am now to how it once was for me” tells the life story of a close-knit family and extends this story to our own journeys through our own memory-filled attics.