Monday, September 4, 2023

Musings of a Minnesota Farm Boy

Musings of a Minnesota Farm Boy
by David Alton Johnson
Recommended Ages: 10+

Enclosed with my copy of this book is a cover letter from the author, under a Washington state return address, dated March of 2020 and addressed to the editor of the newspaper where I'm a reporter. Clearly, the book was handed to me – or maybe I saved it from being tossed out; I don't recall. Although the book comprises reminiscences of a "Leave It to Beaver"-like childhood on a Minnesota farm, and even mentions family names that vaguely ring a bell, it nowhere makes clear exactly how local to our coverage area its setting is, and for sure the author isn't local. So, it isn't the kind of thing that we would cover in our hyper-local, small-town weekly. Nevertheless, I've held onto it, and I finally read it today during a Labor Day book binge on my parents' deck.

The thing that comes across in this loosely connected, 58-page series of memoirs is the author's belief that his time and manner of growing up were golden. His nostalgia has a warmth that the reader can feel. However, and this is a big "however," there is no connected narrative here. A few brief stories, including accounts of some youthful, near-death experiences justifying Johnson's boyhood nickname of "cat" (nine lives, you know). Some snippets of scene dressing for a stage on which nothing much happens. The vignettes, sometimes less than a page long, leave one with a sense of wistfulness, not so much because one shares in the nostalgia, but because one wishes Johnson had taken them further, unpacked them a bit, mused on them more deeply. He frequently draws the same conclusions at the end of his snippets, like how kids got along just fine without screens and social media, and that gives the book as a whole a certain repetitiveness that it could have done without, given its low word count. Even a little fiction might have done a lot to impress this story – forgive me, this book – on one's long-term memory. I feel as if I've come into possession of a memoir that belongs in somebody's family album or scrapbook, to be brought out every decade or so for a family reunion, or used as a primary source for an author planning a well-researched, period novel.

For what it's worth, I don't know much else about David Alton Johnson, other than the return address on his cover letter and the date range of his first 10 years, before his family moved out west. I searched the internet and the most relevant result I got was an obituary for a much younger man by the same name, hopefully not someone whose passing brought grief to this book's author. If you're still out there, David, and this review finds its way to you, let me encourage you to open up a bit more and, perhaps, expand your storytelling beyond a few disconnected scenes.

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