Flyover bookshelf: Danielle Trussoni and Michael Perry

Fall has descended quickly on Madison and threatens to leave just as hastily. Leaves came down in droves last weekend, and then the first ever-so-light snowflakes fell earlier this week, if only for 20 minutes. But while I should have been raking industriously, I was absorbed instead by a fantastic book by a (former) Wisconsin writer: Falling Through the Earth, the memoir by La Crosse native Danielle Trussoni.

Of course, I'm late to the party. Falling Through the Earth came out last year and was chosen by the New York Times as one of 2006's ten best books. It's one of those books I meant to get around to, but didn't. I was nudged by her recent appearance at the Wisconsin Book Festival (which, actually, I couldn't attend--but the Fest schedule is a wonderful reminder of things I should be reading!).

Falling Through the Earth is Trussoni's deeply felt but unsentimental story of her childhood in La Crosse (a town of about 52,000 on the Mississippi River), being raised by a father with severe PTSD from Vietnam that was not diagnosed until much later--and never treated. The aftershocks of the war controlled not only Dan Trussoni's life, but that of his kids and his spouses (there were three). Here's what the Times had to say:

This intense, at times searing memoir revisits the author's rough-and-tumble Wisconsin girlhood, spent on the wrong side of the tracks in the company of her father, a Vietnam vet who began his tour as "a cocksure country boy" but returned "wild and haunted," unfit for family life and driven to extremes of philandering, alcoholism and violence. Trussoni mixes these memories with spellbinding versions of the war stories her father reluctantly dredged up and with reflections on her own journey to Vietnam, undertaken in an attempt to recapture, and come to terms with, her father's experiences as a "tunnel rat" who volunteered for the harrowing duty of scouring underground labyrinths in search of an elusive and deadly enemy.

I'll admit that part of the reason Trussoni's book fascinates me is that her growing-up years were so unlike mine. While we have a few superficial things in common--both women in their 30s who grew up in the Upper Midwest--Trussoni comes from a large, Catholic, working-class family all rooted in the same place. My own small, dispersed family is quite different. And the Vietnam experience--first- OR second-hand--is largely foreign to me, something I know only from history books. My father was in the military, too, but in a different era, different branch, different job (he was a Navy translator in the '50s). Trussoni's book is rich on so many levels: as a Vietnam book, a book about the tense and complex relationship between a father and a daughter, and as a portrait of Wisconsin working-class life filled with the texture and vividness one expects from fiction.

And, while I'm thinking of contemporary Wisconsin nonfiction writers, a suggestion for further reading... anything by Michael Perry, also of west-central Wisconsin, but especially Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time, his tale of returning home to rural New Auburn, Wis., and serving as a volunteer EMT and firefighter. It's hard to resist a book with an opening sentence like this: "Summer here comes on like a zaftig hippie chick, jazzed on chlorophyll and flinging fistfuls of butterflies to the sun."

November 8, 2007 10:00 AM |



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