“I think there’s definitely a sense of intense mess that I really wanted to portray in the book. I mean, ‘mess’ in a social sense, ‘mess’ in a local sense — this thing of being from Iowa, and never seeing cows — and then at the core, and most importantly, a mess in a family that is struggling under economic pressures and emotional difficulties. And over the top of the mess is that prototypical consumerism, the junk piling up in the household, this crust of toys and other cheap boughten things that just somehow typify, weirdly enough, what is deeply inside you, the emotional confusion and chaos, the cheapening of dreams — and in the end the absolute, almost complete trashing of dreams — that can occur in certain households that are suffering under a weight of grief. In the book, this sense of grief is somewhat mysterious. It was never quite clear what affected my mother and father but there were lots of hints that they had undergone trauma, certainly proved by the way that they behaved. So whatever happened to them created a grief and the pressure of that grief — as in a garbage compactor — scooped up so much from discount stores and pushed it all together into the house, and we children were in the middle of that. And the hope for us all was to go out to Kmart again, or to go to Woolworth’s again, and to try to get another new shiny little thing for under a dollar that would then almost immediately break and make you need to go out again and get another little thing that would break. All of those fragments compiled in the house, and most importantly, inside of each of us. So, you just have this sense in the book of wading through a landfill of a spirit, or a landfill of a consciousness, that has undergone prolonged pressure from the forces of grief.”

Read more here: http://www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com/features/interview-with-ben-miller



Definition:  cus-ton-di-an, noun:

  1. Custodian working for a minimal wage and paying a maximum price.
  2. Custard aficionado who has morphed into a twin of their favorite dessert.


He was the miracle worker of my McKinley Elementary School gallery of blurs and cameos, but to others—to the Atari Hush Puppies Spalding herd—a charge, a slave, or barely human Custondian, with limbs paddling in back-hall sloughs, his T-shirt collar showing, there to mock. (p. 173-4, River Bend Chronicle: The Junkification of a Boyhood Idyll amid the Curious Glory of Urban Iowa)


“On the day of the attacks of September 11, 2001, the poet Robert Dana called from Iowa to see how I was doing. It meant everything to hear his strong baritone voice on that harrowing day when I, like tens of thousands, fled Manhattan on foot, walking downtown, toward the smoke and fire, to reach a bridge to Brooklyn. I described the dust-covered New Yorkers–the downtown refugees–and surgeons in scrubs waiting outside Bellevue for survivors not materializing. He described contacting an old Iowa Workshop friend of his, Donald Justice, to sort through the events. There were no calls that night from my family. I trusted that my mother, though, would closely check any printed list of victims for the name of her estranged oldest child. Several days after the attack, my sister Marianna left a few words on my work voice mail. She sounded as if speaking through a pillow, half-smothered. She said she missed me. That Marianna–of them all–would be the one to call was astonishing. She was coping the worst of anyone with her difficult past. Yet she was the one to make the effort. It was all backward. It was all so strange. She did not leave a return number or say where she was. She sounded lost. She really did miss me and I missed her. What I did not miss was the family situation that had done that to her once-vibrant voice, muted it and then all but silenced it. There were alternatives. I had found one. I had my own fragile life to keep clinging to.” (p. 423, River Bend Chronicle: The Junkification of a Boyhood Idyll amid the Curious Glory of Urban Iowa)



Definition:  tick-thock, noun:

  1. Thick reluctant sound of a clock allergic to time.
  2. A bug you really really really don’t want climbing in your sock in the woods.


Nowhere did the second hand of the clock sound more labored than in the school library. The Tick-THOCK, Tick-THOCK of the mules of minutes lugging the preceding millennia in their packs. (p. 170, River Bend Chronicle: The Junkification of a Boyhood Idyll amid the Curious Glory of Urban Iowa)