Pick Up Stick City | Steve Semken | Originally published River’s Bend Press Stillwater, MN | 118p | 2005 | $20
Steve Semken finds his Middle Earth hidden among the Midwestern dust and rubble of a forgotten ghost town lost in Iowa hill country. In this fable, redemption is from a nether world where masters of short term memory are inexplicably reelected. Suns set off track. Sarcasm surprise collide. It’s an antidote for the twenty-first century’s linear, literal, myopia. It may be read also as an imagination user’s guide: a how-to manual for deploying mythology for the restoration of compassion, civility, wonder, and awe.
A how-to manual for deploying mythology for the restoration of compassion, civility, wonder and awe. — Orion
Semken has created characters we recognize and relish for all their foibles, and a place that is miraculous in its potential. — Gary Holthaus – Circling Back
Semken reaches deeply into his magical bag of ancient wisdom and crafts a story that we all need to hear, understand, and enact. — Thomas K. Dean, Director, Iowa Project on Place Studies
Steve Semken finds his Middle Earth hidden among the Midwestern dust and rubble of a forgotten ghost town in Iowa hill country. — Peter Sauer, Orion Society
The Midwest with all its eccentricity, mystery, charm and quiet beauty. — Craig Lesley – The Sky Fisherman
From Publishers Weekly: Semken writes, touchingly, in his preface that he wanted to publish a novel by 40, that he worked on this one eight years and that notification came “when I was thirty-nine years, three hundred and sixty two days old.” This bizarre and mystical fable is touched throughout by that same sweetness. An unkempt, inscrutable loner named Harness Trenchold, independently wealthy from childhood, feels himself compelled to buy an Iowa ghost town, Siren Falls, for $1 million cash. In a short time, egglike objects begin arriving at the neighboring town’s post office, addressed to Trenchold at Pick Up Stick City, Iowa (the rechristened Siren Falls), but postmarked scores of years previously. As Trenchold rebuilds the old, run-down buildings, he discovers more eggs and a curious pool of water. When placed in the pool, the eggs hatch, reanimating the town and moving Harness to resurrect the town’s traditional Spiral Ring, a picnic/confessional that (he has learned) made the town and its people special. Funny, poignant and more than a bit whimsical, this allegorical tale of smalltown and environmental care is suffused with wonder. It doesn’t really work as a novel, but it’s an oddly engaging fable.