‘Nebraska’ by Ron Hansen

Nebraska by Ron Hansen, 1987

The magic trick:

Telling a story of a place not through plot or characters but through a kind of verbal photo album

It usually sounds pretentious when someone declares that the setting is the piece’s main character, as if this literary take was some subversive, inventive discovery.

So forgive me when I say here, Nebraska truly is the main character in this story.

There is no plot – only description. But it’s a special kind of description – less about adjectives and more about mini-vignettes, specific observations from different towns and places around the state. It might take you a minute to get into the rhythm of the story, but once you find the pace, the images begin to really connect and after four pages, you have a remarkably clear picture of the place.

And that’s quite a trick on Hansen’s part.

The selection:

Everyone is famous in this town. And everyone is necessary. Townspeople go to the Vaughn Grocery Store for the daily news, and to the Home Restaurant for history class, especially at evensong when the old people eat graveled pot roast and lemon meringue pie and calmly sip coffee from cups they tip to their mouths with both hands. The Kiwanis Club meets here on Tuesday nights, and hopes are made public, petty sins are tidily dispatched, the proceeds from the gumball machines are tallied up and poured into the upkeep of a playground.

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