Long Way Round: Through the Heartland by River

Univ. of Wisconsin. Oct. 2019. 272p. ISBN 9780299324803. $26.95. TRAV
Hildebrand (English, Univ. of Wisconsin) sets out by canoe on an eight-river, 800-river–mile circular quest through the once teeming waterways of Wisconsin to recalibrate his perspective on its people, the land, and their complicated journeys. What follows is a reflective slow roll through the prosperity and ultimate decline of the small towns and their flawed but endearingly perseverant communities. At a time when the rural countryside is often viewed for the resources that can be extracted commercially from it, and further diminished by reasoning such as “real life” begins in the big city, Hildebrand’s peek into the backyard provides an honest and overdue missing link in our collective narrative. By no means a dirge, this slow-burn meditation on the Midwest’s sociopolitical identity crisis ultimately rewards as a therapeutic revelation of and nonschmaltzy love letter to the people fighting to keep these riverfront communities afloat.
VERDICT Rivers were once the major highway systems of this country and Hildebrand’s rediscovery of this history feels so foreign to the point of near exposé. A must for Wisconsinites, but a recommended journey for socioculturalists in general.
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