By the Iowa Sea
After his first cross-country motorcycle trip, Joe Blair believed he had discovered his calling: he would travel; he would never cave in to convention; he would never settle down. Fifteen years later, he finds himself living in Iowa, working as an air-conditioning repairman and spending his free time cleaning gutters, taxiing his children, and contemplating marital infidelity. When the Iowa River floods, transforming the familiar streets of his small town into a terrible and beautiful sea, Joe begins to question the path that led him to this place.
Exquisitely observed and lyrically recounted, this is a compelling and often humorous account of an ordinary man’s struggle to live an extraordinary life.
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By the Iowa Sea
Read an Excerpt
IT BEGINS WITH RAIN. An innocent enough thing. Rain and rain and rain. Day after day of it. Through February and March and April and May. Forcing us to seek out shelters that will soon, in some cases, be transformed into pontoon boats. While the rain beats down on the roofs of Iowa City and Cedar Rapids and Marengo and Oxford Junction like bouncing hammers, the unstoppable thing is happening. The rivers rise up out of their banks, lifting our neat little split-entry lives from their foundations, tearing away electrical hookups and gas hookups and phone lines, bringing us to a place where there are no riverbanks and no street names and nothing else...see more
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Reading Group Guide
In a candid memoir about his struggle to be a loving husband and father, Joe Blair lays bare his dreams and the stuff they’re made of. A member of the plumber and pipefitter union who also earned a masters in nonfiction writing at the University of Iowa, Joe documents his home struggles—a failing marriage, a special needs child, a natural disaster, and a yearning for something new—in his debut memoir, By the Iowa Sea. With a genuine narrative voice and an unflinching honesty, Blair documents his journey towards living an authentic life, and the challenges great and small he faces along the way.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Does a place define a family? Discuss the ways in which Joe and Deb give weight to the notion of “home.” Consider their first house in Iowa,their youthful motorcycle trip across the US, and their ultimate move back to Massachusetts.
2. Why do you think Joe was attracted to Pamela? What about her differs from Deb? Do Joe and Pamela just see more