Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Dispatches from Kansas

Some of you who read my blogs know I am a book reviewer in addition to author. I've been reviewing for five years now, for various online and hard copy journals. Today, in my ongoing effort to do more here than simply shameless self-promotion, I'm posting the review of a wonderful book I read recently. I won't be doing this often, but since Tom is a fellow blogger and Kansan, and because his book presents a realistic view of Kansas, I'm making an exception. So without further gabbing from me, here is the review of Dispatches From Kansas by Tom Parker:

Dispatches From Kansas
by Tom Parker
ISBN 1-4196-1368-5

On rare occasion, I discover a writer whose lyrical prose style stuns me to silence. "Stun" is the key word here – stunning stories so beautifully told I contemplate them, relish the words, and stare off into space as if struck dumb in appreciative silence. Tom Parker is one of a handful of writers whose name has joined that list of the uncommonly gifted.

Tom Parker is not a native but believes Kansas is one of America's best-kept secrets. He and his wife Lori moved to Kansas from Colorado several years ago when they had wearied of sprawling cities and corporate ladders going nowhere. He's been waxing eloquent about tall grass prairies, Kansas towns and people in his newspaper columns ever since. This book is a random sampling from his column of the same name. One excerpt from one column states Parker's sentiments clearly:
"What's wrong with Kansas? I leave work as the sun becomes airborne. Mist chokes the valleys, shadowed yet by dense woods. The road slips into a slight depression and then rises and the Blue River Valley spreads before me as far as the eye can see, a verdant channel winding southward between grassy bluffs. The road descends and leaps the river and curves into town.
I stand on my front porch, the song of dickcissels calling the sun up. A cuckoo cries behind me. Warily eyeing me, a cottontail sucks down a long dandelion stem."

Life in the prairies has been peaceful and Parker is not hesitant to share the divine he sees in everything around him. Birdsong is surreal and ghostly in early morning fogs along the rivers and streams. Thunderstorms are awesome, electric, transforming. Winter winds roar from the north to rattle windows, freshen air, and freeze nose hairs. Dwelling in the plains requires a sense of humor and a hardy spirit. Amidst nature's bounty, the Parkers discovered mysteries of daily life in rural Kansas: the art of waving at everyone you meet; the odd case of the clairvoyant cashier; the joy and adventure to be found in following grain elevators home; anti-terrorist plans, rural Kansas style. Parker's delight with his new home is obvious, with the exception of ticks, mosquitoes, and grasshoppers.

Tom Parker shares his Kansas experiences with subtle exaggeration, gentle irony, and incredible poignance. He salves occasional bouts of blind despair and dark depression with daily doses of nature. In his world, Nature is a blessing and a balm. And because he shares his vision generously with an honest spirit, readers will enjoy his stories whether they live in Kansas or not. Tom Parker's writing is exceptional and Dispatches from Kansas is highly recommended.

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I enjoy good writing by writers and poets who are not famous. My mother said I was born a hundred years too late. The older I get, the more I realize how right she was.

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