[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”1937063984″ locale=”us” height=”333″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51RbrERwDBL.jpg” width=”236″ alt=”Margie Haack” ]A God who Loves and Treasures
A Review of
The Exact Place: A Memoir
Paperback: Kalos Press, 2012.
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Reviewed by MaryAnn McKibben Dana
Margie Haack’s memoir is aptly named. Her descriptions of the rural Minnesota in which she grew up is so painstakingly rendered that one might consider the landscape a character in itself. It is a place that entertains and nurtures; it is also a place that startles and admonishes.
Haack’s memoir tells the story of her growing up years in a cramped house full of siblings, a mother who was widowed young, and a stepfather who withheld the unconditional love that young Margie so craved. The fact of this withholding is delivered with all the matter-of-factness of a child—this is the world as it is; there’s no changing it—which gives her attempts to earn his love (and her despair when she displeases him) an added poignancy.
Memoirs are a gift because they give us a glimpse of a world that is often unlike our own. Having grown up in Houston Texas, a city whose climate is said to rival that of Calcutta, Haack’s frigid Minnesota might as well be another planet. This is a place where neighbors come together to drive a laboring woman to the hospital over fifty miles of ice lake.
But a good memoir is also universal: Margie and her brother Randy’s penchant for self-entertainment and even mischief are common themes of childhood. For my siblings and me in 1970s suburbia, it was taking turns sliding down the attic stairs in a nylon sleeping bag. For Margie and Randy, it was sneaking their horse into the house to feed it pickles. (She may have the edge there.)
Haack weaves together a story of a childhood that “gave both gifts and wounds” (54). This mixed blessing is illustrated in well-drawn contrasts: a box full of fluffy mail-order chicks that peck each other mercilessly; a dark and spooky root cellar that held countless gleaming jars of preserved summer bounty. Haack’s narrow escape from a rabid skunk is the stuff of nightmares. And Haack as a young teenager, hiding herself and her siblings from a lecherous older man who lived nearby, was terrifyingly creepy. But the narrator never loses hold of the story, so we’re willing to come along, even when things get harrowing. And Haack manages to bring no-nonsense humor into unlikely places.
The chapters are stitched together with short descriptive sections about the flora and fauna of her native Minnesota: chokecherries, Morel mushrooms. She also includes recipes from her childhood that give a folksy authenticity to the tale.
The undercurrent of fundamentalist religion is there— Margie Haack comes of age under the crushing weight of embarrassment at her parents’ restrictive rules and a “spare the rod and spoil the child” mindset. I wanted to know even more about the practices and beliefs of the non-denominational faith that formed her. In any case, she comes to a place of peace and a personal awareness of a God who loves and treasurers her, just as she is.
MaryAnn McKibben Dana is author of Sabbath in the Suburbs: A Family’s Experiment with Holy Time and numerous essays and articles. Connect with her at The Blue Room.