Letters From The Country

by Carol Bly

Paperback, 1981




Penguin, (1981)


Letters from the Country, one of Bly's best-known and best-loved books, is a collection of essays as fresh today as when they were originally published in Minnesota Monthly. This contemporary classic welcomes readers to the small town of Madison, Minnesota (population 2,242), a rural community struggling to place itself in the new American landscape.

User reviews

LibraryThing member TimBazzett
I found this book at a library sale for a quarter, so I didn't really expect much. But I got much much more than my money's worth in reading these essays about the insularity, smugness and sometime cruelty that is often characteristic of small-town living. Bly, who was married to the poet Robert
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Bly when she was writing these pieces back in the 1970s, does not mince words when she attacks the complacency and indifference that she found in the populace of Madison, Minnesota, particularly when it came to literature and the other arts. She lampoons mercilessly the mindless soul-killing non-conversations between "Merv" and "LaVonne" that characterize places like Madison where people learn early to be "nice" and never really talk about things that matter. She also attacks the churches - Lutheran, Episcopalian, Catholic, it doesn't matter - in the way they try to keep the parishioners non-thinking "followers." She decries the educational systems of small-towns that crush the inner life of the students and try to steer them towards vo-tech programs and soul-deadening lives on some assembly line or in a canning factory. But she doesn't simply criticize; she offers suggestions and solutions, like importing writers, musicians and other artists to give presentations. She gives examples of how to encourage children in schools toward lives which value more than just farming, deer-hunting or snowmobiling.

The unique thing about these Letters, are that they were written over 30 years ago, but most of what Bly has to say is still very relevant. She comments on the administration in DC, which was Nixon's back then, but many of the things she says still apply today. This book has been in and out of print with various publishers since its publication and, happily, is back in print again. I think it should be required reading for small-town mayors, administrators and chambers of commerce.

Sadly, Carol Bly died of cancer a few years ago, another shining light in the arts extinguished too soon. I liked these essays well enough that I plan to try some of her fiction soon. Carol Bly was simply a wonderful writer.
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