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Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere: A Memoir

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Fans of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil will embrace Poe Ballantine's Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere. Poe Ballantine's "Free Rent at the Totalitarian Hotel" included in Best American Essays 2013, and for well over twenty years, Poe Ballantine traveled America, taking odd jobs, living in small rooms, Fans of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil will embrace Poe Ballantine's Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere. Poe Ballantine's "Free Rent at the Totalitarian Hotel" included in Best American Essays 2013, and for well over twenty years, Poe Ballantine traveled America, taking odd jobs, living in small rooms, trying to make a living as a writer. At age 46, he finally settled with his Mexican immigrant wife in Chadron, Nebraska, where they had a son who was red-flagged as autistic. Poe published four books about his experiences as a wanderer and his observations of America. But one day in 2006, his neighbor, Steven Haataja, a math professor from the local state college disappeared. Ninety five days later, the professor was found bound to a tree, burned to death in the hills behind the campus where he had taught. No one, law enforcement included, understood the circumstances. Poe had never contemplated writing mystery or true crime, but since he knew all the players, the suspects, the sheriff, the police involved, he and his kindergarten son set out to find out what might have happened.


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Fans of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil will embrace Poe Ballantine's Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere. Poe Ballantine's "Free Rent at the Totalitarian Hotel" included in Best American Essays 2013, and for well over twenty years, Poe Ballantine traveled America, taking odd jobs, living in small rooms, Fans of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil will embrace Poe Ballantine's Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere. Poe Ballantine's "Free Rent at the Totalitarian Hotel" included in Best American Essays 2013, and for well over twenty years, Poe Ballantine traveled America, taking odd jobs, living in small rooms, trying to make a living as a writer. At age 46, he finally settled with his Mexican immigrant wife in Chadron, Nebraska, where they had a son who was red-flagged as autistic. Poe published four books about his experiences as a wanderer and his observations of America. But one day in 2006, his neighbor, Steven Haataja, a math professor from the local state college disappeared. Ninety five days later, the professor was found bound to a tree, burned to death in the hills behind the campus where he had taught. No one, law enforcement included, understood the circumstances. Poe had never contemplated writing mystery or true crime, but since he knew all the players, the suspects, the sheriff, the police involved, he and his kindergarten son set out to find out what might have happened.

30 review for Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Peter Derk

    This is a damn solid read. If you're a person who uses the word "meandering" as a way of criticizing a book, then skip this one. DO READ one of Poe Ballantine's other books because he is an excellent writer you should get to know, but what I'm saying is that if you've got a problem with a story that doesn't have a very clear, linear progression, this one might not be the right choice. If you're looking for a plot-driven novel with a Scooby-Doo reveal, take a pass here. I don't want to just address This is a damn solid read. If you're a person who uses the word "meandering" as a way of criticizing a book, then skip this one. DO READ one of Poe Ballantine's other books because he is an excellent writer you should get to know, but what I'm saying is that if you've got a problem with a story that doesn't have a very clear, linear progression, this one might not be the right choice. If you're looking for a plot-driven novel with a Scooby-Doo reveal, take a pass here. I don't want to just address criticisms here...but I've read a few things about Ballantine being an unlikable character. This, my friends, is a criticism I'm sort of over, in general. I don't have to like a guy or agree with him to find his story interesting. Nor do I need my "characters" (in quotes because in this case the cast is composed of actual, real people) to present themselves as fully-formed people who know what the fuck they're doing. I don't need them to be right all the time. Because honestly, I don't see a lot of point in reading something that's about being fair to all parties involved. A voiceless, dimensionless pack of pages that tells me what happened and then how I should think about what happened. I'd prefer to hear a more one-sided account of things. I'm a grownup. I understand that this is one person's perspective, and as an empathetic human I can understand that other parties would almost certainly tell the same story differently. I don't have to share the point of view of a narrator to enjoy a book, nor does my enjoyment of a book mean I endorse the narrator's beliefs. Guys, if I want a book where the author shares my every belief and point of view, I'll have to write the goddamn thing myself. What needs separation is whether you don't enjoy the character, the choices made or the character's viewpoint, or if you don't like the writing. Is it the point of view or the expression of that point of view? Yes, a character can come off as whiny or obnoxious, or the opinions can be so skewed and bizarre or touch on an issue close to your heart, and if that happens you'll never enjoy it. Just accept it. But if a book is well-written, you'll read it regardless. Because although you might not agree with the point of view, its presentation is beautifully done. Or maybe you won't. I don't know. I would just encourage readers to ask themselves before criticizing a book because they "didn't like" the characters. Did you dislike them because they said and did things you wouldn't do? Or that you think are bad? Or did you dislike them because the way they presented the material just didn't cut it?

  2. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Now I feel extra wrong about bashing Cheryl Strayed for Wild. She wrote the introduction to this and she is so right about the club of "Wow. Yes. Jesus. Poe". Now that I'm a convert I have to love her for inducting me. I plan to read every word that Ballantine has ever written before I read anything else and I am clearly indebted to Strayed for introducing me. I always get a thrill when there is a Rumpus Book Club book in the mailbox, the brown paper, the Stephen something or other return addres Now I feel extra wrong about bashing Cheryl Strayed for Wild. She wrote the introduction to this and she is so right about the club of "Wow. Yes. Jesus. Poe". Now that I'm a convert I have to love her for inducting me. I plan to read every word that Ballantine has ever written before I read anything else and I am clearly indebted to Strayed for introducing me. I always get a thrill when there is a Rumpus Book Club book in the mailbox, the brown paper, the Stephen something or other return address. As usual, I opened it up and read the first page while walking back from the mailbox. This time, I was so hooked by that first page that I didn't put this book down except by force of toddler or other familial duties until I finished it the next day. Wow. Yes. Jesus. Poe. This is a book about a mysterious murder or suicide but it is really about this town in Nebraska and all of the colorful characters that he knows and loves. And it is about his marriage and possibly autistic son. I guess ultimately it is about Ballantine and his freakishly lovingly observant take on other unusual people. It is an infuriatingly unsatisfying murder mystery but you won't care because it is so much more. I have my own theory on how he died but it really doesn't matter, the book is a treasure even if we never know.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ned

    This author with the interesting name began catching my attention years ago as I came across his quirky life takes in my favorite magazine, The Sun. This is the only publication I read religiously, and have read every monthly issue since my first subscription in 2002 (a gift from my wonderful sister-in-law, to whom I will be eternally grateful). This author is like none other, a self-proclaimed loser who traversed the United States in search of meaning, drifting from odd job to odd job in odd pl This author with the interesting name began catching my attention years ago as I came across his quirky life takes in my favorite magazine, The Sun. This is the only publication I read religiously, and have read every monthly issue since my first subscription in 2002 (a gift from my wonderful sister-in-law, to whom I will be eternally grateful). This author is like none other, a self-proclaimed loser who traversed the United States in search of meaning, drifting from odd job to odd job in odd places, sometimes chosen randomly when packing up his few belongings and hitting the road. Poe is self-effacing, and shockingly open about his feelings and self-loathing, but he also has an ebullient love for people and is bracingly positive. The kind of person, I suspect, who could be absolutely intolerably demanding to be around, incessantly demanding attention and love. I am guessing his style is like Karl Ove Knausgard, whom I’ve not yet read and have had his first My Struggle book queued up for years now (I need to get to it). This book is set in Chadron, Nebraska, which works for me being a midwesterner from Kansas. However, this is a small place at higher altitude, closer to Denver than the great plains which is more familiar. Here our author, in his “tell-all” style, describes his recently settled life with his Mexican wife and his autistic son, Tom. The level of personal information, though thinly disguised, is astonishing – I can’t imagine the people around him, wife included, being okay with all the dirty laundry reveled. What binds his “book” together, really a series of vignettes over many years as in his magazine pieces, is the tale of an acquaintance who disappears. This person is a math professor and much of the book is about the townspeople pondering the great mystery of why this man suddenly fell off the face of the earth in December. His body is eventually discovered, close to home, in a hollow bound to a tree and the corpse mostly burned. It is never learned if this was a bizarre suicide or some macabre murder, but the gossip and searching, and many interesting townspeople and law enforcement is riveting. Told from Poe’s overwhelmingly large personality and his own sleuthing, it makes for great reading. It is broken up into short chapters, each with a hilarious police record from the tiny local newspaper as a preface, for levity. I believe this author is self-taught in writing, as in many other endeavors such as being a chef, and his talent is prodigious. He’s great at riffing, and spews brilliant splashes of prose like a burst from a great jazz saxophonist improvising. The “book” does hold together, though barely so, as a passage of life without a true beginning or end. p. 20, here Poe communicates exquisitely about landing in Chadron and his pithy philosophy of life: “There were abandoned houses everywhere, it felt like a dying town, politely hanging on. I felt akin. I felt indebted. I thought, you know, we can’t all win the game. So why not just shut up for a change and be satisfied with what you have? Why not just be a good neighbor and live an honorable life and take out the trash? Why not stop torturing yourself about fame and art? Why not relent, marry a reformed hooker, buy some old furniture and a ping-pong table, become a Cornhusker fan, open a dusty bottle of Kentucky straight, turn on the Rockies game, and enjoy the brief time you have left on this weird planet of sorrow?” p. 83, rich emotion and wordscaping regarding his visiting editor from the west coast and her husband: “Kevin and Rhonda were leaving in two days and I could see they were enjoying themselves at 3,400 feet on the snowy treeless plains with the ghosts of cowboys and Indians and the crenellated sunsets like the tangled velveteen curtains on fire and all the nutty people who called this place home. The peace and vast distance and big skies of the prairies can get in your blood.” p. 84, here our author expounds philosophy about the importance of stories, vs historical facts: “We’d rather have satisfaction and the maximum titillation than real information, and so history, I insist, to my good friend…. Isn’t a cold sequential list of facts, it’s a prize anthology of the best fiction. Whether it’s the ancient Israelites, Homer’s Iliad, James Frey, or a Hearst newspaper, whoever spins the best yarn wins. And until science can come up with a story more compelling than protein globules congealing in some random electrochemical frenzy over four billion years to assemble somehow into Jesus in the manger, we’re going to stick with the more colorful version of the mystery of how Christmas came to be.” p. 171, after 7 years of marriage after 40 years of wandering without a mate, Poe’s marriage and parental responsibilities is a struggle, as he reveals nostalgia for his old nature “My best memories are of being alone, in a room with books, sleep, cigarettes, snow without footprints, no obligations, no one to answer tor apologize to, no one reprimanding me or stepping on m daydreams, the peaceful nights, the long projects, Death sitting next to me in his bumblebee pajamas, legs crossed ….” p. 191, he is a polar opposite of his wife, and I can relate having my ironic / sarcastic thoughts landing on dry soil, and a relationship that oddly seems to improve him. Here his sarcasm is taken literally: “…Cristina would shake her head somberly and frown. She couldn’t fathom why I might want to hitchhike to Rapid (City) ad return by freight train or walk on my hands or steal a helicopter or go rowboating with hobos or contact my home planet or pull my pants down in front of the Queen. When you read as much as I have about autism, everyone after a while begins to look autistic, everyone fits somewhere along ‘the spectrum,’ just as it was a few years ago when it was discovered that we are all gay, that we all fit somewhere along that spectrum (I suppose, consistent with this argument, we all fit along the heterosexual spectrum as well, but anyway…)” p. 209, musing on the outsider law officer: “From the five boroughs of New York to the Howling Plains of Nowhere, Sheriff Conaghan has seen a lot in his day, hundreds of bodies and their misarranged parts, the muddle of minds and methods gone mad, the misery of passion overflowed, the love of excitement that runs roughshod over all reason, the lies that never stop being told. Having run the jail for over two decades, he’d witnessed the gamut of humanity, heard every story, prosecuted just about every crime. But he’d never seen a case like this one, nothing close.”

  4. 5 out of 5

    Holly

    Okay so this is a sort of unorthodox memoir-cum-true crime account by an up-and-coming not-young American writer who probably never imagined publishing in either genre. Ballantine has a definite style: highly detailed with odd twists of language, and exceedingly thoughtful. He's no David Foster Wallace, but he's no ordinary writer, either. I liked this book: Ballantine made a small, eccentric Nebraska town interesting, even though I don't want to imagine living there. Skip or discount the fawnin Okay so this is a sort of unorthodox memoir-cum-true crime account by an up-and-coming not-young American writer who probably never imagined publishing in either genre. Ballantine has a definite style: highly detailed with odd twists of language, and exceedingly thoughtful. He's no David Foster Wallace, but he's no ordinary writer, either. I liked this book: Ballantine made a small, eccentric Nebraska town interesting, even though I don't want to imagine living there. Skip or discount the fawning and gushing introductory endorsement by Cheryl Strayed (I like her fine and I hope her praise sold a few books for him, but it read as if she composed it on hotel stationary while strung out and tipsy during one of her book tours.)

  5. 4 out of 5

    Michael Shilling

    Comparing this at times charming but mostly meandering book to capote and berendt is ridiculous.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Courtney

    Poe Ballantine has a wonderful narrative voice, which I really enjoy. I also partially identify with his late bloomer complex and his discomfort with other people's definitions of success/stability. Although Love and Terror is a bit repetitive at times, the story of how a tragedy affects a small town is handled well. The documentary based on this book is also very good. I think what I appreciate most about Ballantine's prose is that he doesn't set himself up as an authority on anything. He isn't Poe Ballantine has a wonderful narrative voice, which I really enjoy. I also partially identify with his late bloomer complex and his discomfort with other people's definitions of success/stability. Although Love and Terror is a bit repetitive at times, the story of how a tragedy affects a small town is handled well. The documentary based on this book is also very good. I think what I appreciate most about Ballantine's prose is that he doesn't set himself up as an authority on anything. He isn't a know-it-all or a patronizing expert; he's just a curious person who walks around, talks to the people who are willing to talk to him, and tries to formulate hypotheses. Along the way, he explores the inner workings of his relationships, his town, and the daily assumptions we make that are threatened by unexpected violence.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jack Waters

    Poe Ballantine has a tendency to be in the wrong place at the right time. Or the right place at the wrong time. He may have actually said that about himself, and I’m just quoting him. If you see his name in a byline, read it. After facing the financial travails that is modern-day authorship, Ballantine found himself in the panhandle of Nebraska in a little town, Chadron. A few scattered thousand populate the town, and Ballantine brought his wife, whom he courted in her native Mexico. They had a Poe Ballantine has a tendency to be in the wrong place at the right time. Or the right place at the wrong time. He may have actually said that about himself, and I’m just quoting him. If you see his name in a byline, read it. After facing the financial travails that is modern-day authorship, Ballantine found himself in the panhandle of Nebraska in a little town, Chadron. A few scattered thousand populate the town, and Ballantine brought his wife, whom he courted in her native Mexico. They had a child together, Tom, thought by many to be autistic. Tom is a delightful companion throughout the memoir. His curiosity and imaginative demeanor provide an ease from the slowly-building tensions in Chadron. Ballantine’s jobs and lack thereof present him with ample opportunity to mingle with the oddball populace. Four books behind him and looking ahead, his publisher(and her detective fiance) fly out to scope out book opportunities. She suggests a graphic novel centered on the town folk, or a quirky cookbook, to capitalize on his skills as a short-order cook. Dead-end ideas abound till Chadron is confronted with a terror(amplified when given the small town dynamics). A math professor ends up missing, only to be found ninety-five days later burned to death. I will deviate from the plot-review here. In the small town, nearly everyone knows everyone, and the intrigue and suspicion is on high alert -- Ballantine floats among the major parties looking to solve the crime. But that suspicion runs deep and finds conflicts with trust, truth, and tension. Ballantine is a perfect writer to capture a city shook; his sturdy journalistic unwillingness to cave to theories and pressure from friends or enemies is admirable. I count this among the finer true crime tales such as Dave Cullen’s ‘Columbine’ or Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood.’

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kiersten

    I had no idea what to expect from a book that purports to be a memoir and a true crime drama all in one, but I must say I was completely blown away by what I got! On the surface, Love & Terror is about the author's life in small-town, Middle America and the mysterious death of a local math professor. What makes the story so compelling is the author's attempt to solve the mystery with a cast of lively misfits in tow: the trusty sidekick (his incredibly loveable 5-year old autistic son), the damse I had no idea what to expect from a book that purports to be a memoir and a true crime drama all in one, but I must say I was completely blown away by what I got! On the surface, Love & Terror is about the author's life in small-town, Middle America and the mysterious death of a local math professor. What makes the story so compelling is the author's attempt to solve the mystery with a cast of lively misfits in tow: the trusty sidekick (his incredibly loveable 5-year old autistic son), the damsel in distress (his immigrant wife and occasional antagonist), an evil foe (the slimy professor with designs on his wife), and some Cowboys, Indians, Sheriffs and Barmaids for good measure. Certainly an adventure fit for a modern Beowulf! Ballantine is funny and heartfelt and quirky and soulful and ALL of the other wonderful adjectives that critics have already used to describe him. I'll be recommending this book a lot.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kelly Daniels

    This book is laugh-out-loud funny, and it's likely to make you feel better about your lot in life. Ballantine is an odd dude who has deliberately chosen to live in a blighted, frigid little city most of us would run screaming from, and to work a completely shitty job in spite of his considerable literary talent. Love and Terror--part memoir about his rambling ways, challenging love life (and beautifully tender relationship with his young son) and fascinating perspective on life; part amateur det This book is laugh-out-loud funny, and it's likely to make you feel better about your lot in life. Ballantine is an odd dude who has deliberately chosen to live in a blighted, frigid little city most of us would run screaming from, and to work a completely shitty job in spite of his considerable literary talent. Love and Terror--part memoir about his rambling ways, challenging love life (and beautifully tender relationship with his young son) and fascinating perspective on life; part amateur detective story concerning a local professor whose body was found bound and burned--is the perfect balance of the personal inner story and how it intersects with the outside world. I'd previously read one of his novels and found it interesting but not particularly inspiring; his nonfiction has made me a believer. I finished Love and Terror and immediately bought a collection of his essays. This is some of the most exciting work I've read in years.

  10. 4 out of 5

    David Corleto-Bales

    Poe Ballantine knocked around America at odd jobs, cook, cleaner and others all the while finding material to write about. This book is part true crime mystery, part memoir, and he alternates with both, telling about finding his wife in Mexico, and the rather quirky habits of the inhabitants of Chadron, Nebraska, (a typical small heartland town on the "howling plains of nowhere", in this case, Western Nebraska) where he has found friendship and a place to belong. While he works on being a writer Poe Ballantine knocked around America at odd jobs, cook, cleaner and others all the while finding material to write about. This book is part true crime mystery, part memoir, and he alternates with both, telling about finding his wife in Mexico, and the rather quirky habits of the inhabitants of Chadron, Nebraska, (a typical small heartland town on the "howling plains of nowhere", in this case, Western Nebraska) where he has found friendship and a place to belong. While he works on being a writer while also working as a cook and cleans the local Safeway, a professor at the local state college goes missing, creating a huge mystery. When his body is found three months later, in unlikely and enigmatic circumstances, the mystery deepens. Ballantine is honest, funny, poignant and often brilliant, and we like him and Chadron very much; there is also a documentary film of the same name.

  11. 5 out of 5

    CB Davis

    I loved loved loved this book. I picked it up and felt compelled to read it cover to cover in one sitting. I loved his writing style—especially how he reminds his readers who the characters are (without making the reader feel stupid for not being able to remember who everyone is!); this is so refreshing as I find myself making cheat sheets for some books so I can attempt to enjoy their stories better. Any fan of Serial would love this: a true crime work with an engaging family story and a cast o I loved loved loved this book. I picked it up and felt compelled to read it cover to cover in one sitting. I loved his writing style—especially how he reminds his readers who the characters are (without making the reader feel stupid for not being able to remember who everyone is!); this is so refreshing as I find myself making cheat sheets for some books so I can attempt to enjoy their stories better. Any fan of Serial would love this: a true crime work with an engaging family story and a cast of interesting characters. Who wouldn’t like to pull up a chair to the President’s Table at the Olde Main Inn on a Friday night? I can’t wait to read more of Ballantine’s work.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Cynthia Sillitoe

    I didn't like this book, but couldn't stop reading it. I think I just invented a new genre. Or maybe I've been reading too much Poe Ballantine. I didn't like this book, but couldn't stop reading it. I think I just invented a new genre. Or maybe I've been reading too much Poe Ballantine.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    I adore Poe Ballantine's short stories, absolutely adore. He has this exquisite quality in his writing that makes you either love it or hate it, no in between. This proved to be true in a creative writing class I took years ago - half the class thought it was garbage and the other half thought it was the best nonfiction to ever be penned. I am in the latter category. So imagine my shock when this book hit me with BOTH feelings. I love this book for a variety of reasons, the main being his confess I adore Poe Ballantine's short stories, absolutely adore. He has this exquisite quality in his writing that makes you either love it or hate it, no in between. This proved to be true in a creative writing class I took years ago - half the class thought it was garbage and the other half thought it was the best nonfiction to ever be penned. I am in the latter category. So imagine my shock when this book hit me with BOTH feelings. I love this book for a variety of reasons, the main being his confessionalist writing. He's exceptional at it. He makes you feel like you're his best friend in the best way possible. I want to know more about Cristina and Tom and eat dinner with him. But at the same time, this entire "mystery" is just awful. Like, I get unsolved case - but this is barely even an INVESTIGATED case. This is absolutely infuriating. Everyone involved with that case should have been fired. And so I give this book four stars on the basis that it's Poe and the outside story is great. But I feel so sorry for Steven Hataja. I was not emotionally up to that mess. Also, my other complaint was that by the ending of this book it felt as though the book was solely based on the death of Steven... But Steven's death was only introduced maybe 60% of the way through the book. The pacing/focus just felt a tad bit weird.

  14. 5 out of 5

    ~*kath*~

    I am so conflicted by this book. Ok, so the prose is beautiful, he has a gift for description and for turn of phrase. The true crime aspect of the book is fascinating, as is his open love for his autistic son. I had the audiobook, read by the author and he is a pleasant voice to listen to. But oh God I could do without the bloviating about how amazing a husband he was and how his wife is distant and neurotic. He could have sliced off easily a third, maybe more, of this book and then gone back an I am so conflicted by this book. Ok, so the prose is beautiful, he has a gift for description and for turn of phrase. The true crime aspect of the book is fascinating, as is his open love for his autistic son. I had the audiobook, read by the author and he is a pleasant voice to listen to. But oh God I could do without the bloviating about how amazing a husband he was and how his wife is distant and neurotic. He could have sliced off easily a third, maybe more, of this book and then gone back and filled out more detail about the actual crime. Instead of constantly speculating on who thought what happened, some details and facts laid out clearly and in good timelines would have been much better. Or alternatively, written about the early life he kept alluding to, but never quite fleshing out. And the repeated racism towards Indigenous Americans was gobsmacking. His repeated dismissal of them as not quite the same value as the rest of the townfolk really made me feel sick. I wonder if he was too busy trying to be in the club of dry white American men making their name for writing about how much women and "natives" annoy them and booze and their own navel is endlessly fascinating.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Larry

    If you were to commit a murder, then Chadron would be the place to do it because the inhabitants couldn't solve the case within the next century. At least that is what I infer based on Ballantine's description of almost everyone's attempt (his included) to solve the murder or suicide of a math professor at the state college. Given that the crime is still unsolved, one would hope that the book would tell us something interesting about life in a an isolated but medium-sized (by Nebraska standards) If you were to commit a murder, then Chadron would be the place to do it because the inhabitants couldn't solve the case within the next century. At least that is what I infer based on Ballantine's description of almost everyone's attempt (his included) to solve the murder or suicide of a math professor at the state college. Given that the crime is still unsolved, one would hope that the book would tell us something interesting about life in a an isolated but medium-sized (by Nebraska standards) town on the high plains. What it seems to tell us is that there are a lot of disturbed people in Chadron, for whatever reason. (It's got to be more than isolation.) For what it's worth, a similar case took place at Northern University in Aberdeen several years ago. Was it murder or suicide? In the absence of a real CSI squad, who knows? People who mistake the charm of their narrative voice by overvaluing it probably aren't a substitute for the CSI people.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    Ballantine describes himself as a failed novelist, a drifter/short-order cook who somehow ends up in Chadron, Nebraska, the end of the earth. Right in the middle of a murder mystery. He actually becomes a suspect due to his motive: the need to write and sell a book. This is laugh-out-loud stuff, even though we're talking about a math teacher who was burned to death. ("Professor Flambé," as one of the detectives calls him.) Ballantine's musings about his son Tom, diagnosed as autistic, reveal his Ballantine describes himself as a failed novelist, a drifter/short-order cook who somehow ends up in Chadron, Nebraska, the end of the earth. Right in the middle of a murder mystery. He actually becomes a suspect due to his motive: the need to write and sell a book. This is laugh-out-loud stuff, even though we're talking about a math teacher who was burned to death. ("Professor Flambé," as one of the detectives calls him.) Ballantine's musings about his son Tom, diagnosed as autistic, reveal his true gifts as a writer. This kid is one of the funniest and most charming characters in history. I'm now off in search of Ballantine's essays...

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lola

    Although I was reading this book, I can't tell you what it's about. I love to read memoirs but not this one. I felt like I had no idea what was going on--I was just reading words. I got to chapter 30 and then gave up. I don't like to quit on any book but with so many other books that I would enjoy reading, I didn't want to spend any more time on this one. Sorry. :-( Although I was reading this book, I can't tell you what it's about. I love to read memoirs but not this one. I felt like I had no idea what was going on--I was just reading words. I got to chapter 30 and then gave up. I don't like to quit on any book but with so many other books that I would enjoy reading, I didn't want to spend any more time on this one. Sorry. :-(

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kate Hallam

    Loved this book! Loved the odd ball characters so much. The relationships are beautifully detailed, especially the bond between father and son. Would read it again in a heart beat. I miss them already. This one was a nice easy one to ease into with bite size chapters, easy for a distracted person like myself to get in to.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    Poe Ballantine is a very entertaining writer. Somehow his style reminds me of Carl Hiaasen, and is possibly more factual, but I suspect the jury would be out on that one. Investigating a suspicious death in a small town is certainly an original and quirky idea for a memoir. Glad I read it but one I'd only recommend to my most quirky of friends. Poe Ballantine is a very entertaining writer. Somehow his style reminds me of Carl Hiaasen, and is possibly more factual, but I suspect the jury would be out on that one. Investigating a suspicious death in a small town is certainly an original and quirky idea for a memoir. Glad I read it but one I'd only recommend to my most quirky of friends.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jeanne

    A wandering, meandering memoir that circles around a true crime but never reaches a satisfying conclusion.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    Imagine hanging with a good friend who is kind, witty, articulate, and honest. You talk about life: wives/marriage, autistic kids, friends, America, and adventures in the trades, and trenches. For this few rounds of beers you spend a good bit of time discussing the disappearance and strange death of a mutual friend. Enjoy!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Katie McMahon

    I wanted to give Love and Terror five stars, but then I ran into this thread of comments from Steven Haajata's sisters and Poe himself here: http://hawthornebooks.com/blog/articl... I think he is so into his own investigation and as a reader, I get so into it too, that I forget about the people this book affects. The future documentary will also affect Steve's family. When I start reading a book, it's like I'm there and I know Steve personally, but I don't. And I don't know his family and they ar I wanted to give Love and Terror five stars, but then I ran into this thread of comments from Steven Haajata's sisters and Poe himself here: http://hawthornebooks.com/blog/articl... I think he is so into his own investigation and as a reader, I get so into it too, that I forget about the people this book affects. The future documentary will also affect Steve's family. When I start reading a book, it's like I'm there and I know Steve personally, but I don't. And I don't know his family and they are barely spoken of in the book (because they wouldn't take his calls, according to Poe, but because they didn't receive calls, according to his family). It is so interesting reading a book when it is first published because if we want, we can find all this extra information--current information. We can ask questions and they can be answered by authors, family members, police officers, etc. And though it makes me uncomfortable that Steven's family was upset about the book, I also understand that a writer has to write. This is Poe's experience. As a side note, my favorite excerpts were those of Poe and his son, Tom. Tom seems like a beautiful individual, with autism or not. I feel like a lot of us forget that it's okay to be ourselves and Tom is always Tom. I love that Poe and his wife cherish that and let him thrive instead of trying to "fix" him. Great book overall. I would recommend it to everyone!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Beverlee

    It's difficult to review this book. It was entertaining to me mostly because I live in the area the victim did and I mostly enjoyed the author's insights. One of the best parts of the book is the brilliant title. One of the weakest parts is its reason for being, a 'memoir'/mystery. I think perhaps the author supposed there would be a lot more to the investigative story, and eventually invested so much in it that he had to write that story even though it didn't pan out to be worth it. Knowing he It's difficult to review this book. It was entertaining to me mostly because I live in the area the victim did and I mostly enjoyed the author's insights. One of the best parts of the book is the brilliant title. One of the weakest parts is its reason for being, a 'memoir'/mystery. I think perhaps the author supposed there would be a lot more to the investigative story, and eventually invested so much in it that he had to write that story even though it didn't pan out to be worth it. Knowing he couldn't uncover enough about the death for an entire book, he embedded it in a story of his life. Someone called it a mashup. I wouldn't: A mashup would imply, to me, that the two would have inherent connections and, in this book, the connection is tenuous at best. It appeared the author's motivation was publishing a book, any book. That said, once you get it, the book has some great parts. Sadly, to me, the author totally missed the book he should have written. 'Ballentine's' life story was interesting, the crime somewhat interesting, but the parts of the books that sparkled were the parts about his son. If a time comes that he writes that book, I'll be the first to line up to buy it. Otherwise, probably not so much. I guess I also need to say that I found much of the writing in the early part of the book overdone and self-indulgent.

  24. 4 out of 5

    candice Porter

    I absolutelyloved this book. I’ve tried three new books since I finished this one and the writing just doesn’t compare. I had to look up some words but it was a pleasure because Ballentines writing is just delectable. He is laugh out loud funny because he’s so clever with visuals and the written word. There are really three stories going on here, one is him, two, his marriage and son and then there is of course the murder that occurs in the little town of Chardon . His insights and descriptions I absolutelyloved this book. I’ve tried three new books since I finished this one and the writing just doesn’t compare. I had to look up some words but it was a pleasure because Ballentines writing is just delectable. He is laugh out loud funny because he’s so clever with visuals and the written word. There are really three stories going on here, one is him, two, his marriage and son and then there is of course the murder that occurs in the little town of Chardon . His insights and descriptions are so well formed, I had to read some of the sentences to my husband, they were that good. You quickly grow to care about the interesting characters in Chadron and while enjoying the excellent writing, there really is a murder mystery going on. He is such a decent man and the description of his adorable little mildly autistic son and beautiful but always worried wife makes you care so much about the outcome.his writing is book award worthy. I devoured the book in two days at the beach. Highly recommended.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Hoff

    3.5. I think I didn't quite get this book. I expected something completely different based on the title. Maybe some sort of survival against all odds tale. This is a true story about life in a small midwestern town by a very interesting author who married an immigrant from Mexico and tried to make life work. A second reading might help me appreciate it more, throwing out all expectations and starting fresh. A professor friend goes missing. The local police force is a bumbling mess. There is humo 3.5. I think I didn't quite get this book. I expected something completely different based on the title. Maybe some sort of survival against all odds tale. This is a true story about life in a small midwestern town by a very interesting author who married an immigrant from Mexico and tried to make life work. A second reading might help me appreciate it more, throwing out all expectations and starting fresh. A professor friend goes missing. The local police force is a bumbling mess. There is humor. There is insight. Sharp writing. And an interesting tale. I loved the little boy and his take on the world. The small town newspaper inserts were hilarious. I'd loved to have really "gotten" it.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mark Robertson

    Poe Ballantine is a true wordsmith - this book has some of the best descriptive writing I’ve ever read. Very early on, for example, is a discussion of the state of Nebraska that begins with the line: “Most people would live in an outhouse in Bangladesh before they would voluntarily move to Nebraska.” He’s got a unique voice and a good sense of humor. I will look for more of his work. I gave this only three stars because it left me wondering if the police and Ballantine had done everything possib Poe Ballantine is a true wordsmith - this book has some of the best descriptive writing I’ve ever read. Very early on, for example, is a discussion of the state of Nebraska that begins with the line: “Most people would live in an outhouse in Bangladesh before they would voluntarily move to Nebraska.” He’s got a unique voice and a good sense of humor. I will look for more of his work. I gave this only three stars because it left me wondering if the police and Ballantine had done everything possible to solve the mystery that is at the book’s core.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    So glad I discovered this author. I love his writing, part memoir part crime story. Ballantine is an original.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Anna Smith

    Very good I would recommend this very addictive and hard to put down. Makes you wanting more. Never had read this author but want to read more of his books

  29. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    Part memoir, part true crime, this book has enough substance to keep you reading. But it's not a masterpiece by any means. I think his bias/stigma toward autism is interesting. Maybe coming at that topic through a teacher's lens, I see things differently. It's not quite that he's in denial about his son's autism diagnosis. It's more that he thinks the diagnosis is inherently a bad thing—like society and autism are at odds or something. His reportage on the crime, too, seems bush league. But then a Part memoir, part true crime, this book has enough substance to keep you reading. But it's not a masterpiece by any means. I think his bias/stigma toward autism is interesting. Maybe coming at that topic through a teacher's lens, I see things differently. It's not quite that he's in denial about his son's autism diagnosis. It's more that he thinks the diagnosis is inherently a bad thing—like society and autism are at odds or something. His reportage on the crime, too, seems bush league. But then again, he was truly an amateur at criminology. But it sort of comes off as, "Yeah, I asked a ton of questions, but we never got any answers, end of story." Not exactly riveting. And, as in a lot of memoirs of folks who are not quite interesting enough to sustain their own tale, much of this book's draw is the dynamism of the characters/people with whom he interacts. Hazel tops the list, but also Kevin, and the ghost hunter, and what happened to the Brown Burd lead? Sort of a cliffhanger. Anyway, a friend recommended this to me, so I read it. Recommended for true crime fans who enjoy some flexibility with the word true.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Betsy

    I found this memoir in a great bookstore in Valentine, Nebraska (Plains Trading Company...doesn't sound like a bookstore but it is!). The title grabbed me and then the Cheryl Strayed blurb and then the setting -- Chadron, Nebraska not far from where we were and which I know nothing about. All the more reason to read about this small cowboy town in northwestern Nebraska and what an entertaining guide Poe Ballentine. The memoir is ostensibly about a gruesome murder and resulting murder investigati I found this memoir in a great bookstore in Valentine, Nebraska (Plains Trading Company...doesn't sound like a bookstore but it is!). The title grabbed me and then the Cheryl Strayed blurb and then the setting -- Chadron, Nebraska not far from where we were and which I know nothing about. All the more reason to read about this small cowboy town in northwestern Nebraska and what an entertaining guide Poe Ballentine. The memoir is ostensibly about a gruesome murder and resulting murder investigation of a local math professor but it's more about Poe's life, notably his challenging relationship with a much-younger wife from Mexico and his touching fatherhood with young Tom, who is quirky if not autistic (his dad's not big on labels). Poe's writing is almost always entertaining and often one-of-a-kind brilliant. I learned a lot about Chadron too. And that title...gotta love it. There's even bits about Iowa in here - an added bonus for this Iowan-by-choice.

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