The current issue of Wisconsin People & Ideas (Winter 2011) includes my essay on August Derleth’s 1961 Walden West. The book is a portrait of the people and landscape of Sac Prairie, a lightly fictionalized composite of Derleth’s Sauk City hometown and the adjacent village of Prairie du Sac. It’s an evocative literary work that’s never really gotten its due. Here’s a brief passage from my piece:
In Walden West Derleth captures a small-town populace increasingly alienated from a natural world to which their rhythms are still connected. It is a book written by a stubborn, unapologetic regionalist, who, in 1961, seemed out of step with the forward-looking optimism and youthful vigor of John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier. While not outright ignored, Walden West was critically panned upon publication. “These sketches have little distinction, no particular chronology or unifying drama,” sniffed a critic for Kirkus Reviews.
An earlier version of this essay won the Council for Wisconsin Writers Rediscovering Wisconsin Writers Award in 2004. It was revised and, in my opinion, improved for publication. My thanks to the magazine’s editor, Jason Smith, and literary editor, John Lehman, for their skill and sensitivity in bringing the piece into sharper focus.