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'A Step from Death' is a memoir full of poetry

North Dakota's poet laureate traces his life as father, farmer, and writer.

A Step from Death by Larry Woiwode

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A Step From Death

Author: Larry Woiwode

It's hard to know where to start praising Larry Woiwode's new memoir A Step From Death. Perhaps with the language – perfect, poetic, layered. Perhaps with the pace – wandering, peripatetic, interrupted, like memory itself. Or perhaps with the clumsy and unrelenting love with which he, as a father, addresses his only son, Joseph, for whom the book was written.

Woiwode and his family operate a ranch in western North Dakota, where the author relishes the physical demands of farming as a balance to the more interior work of writing. A writer, he believes, should also work.

If life on the farm builds up his family through the rigors of chores, sweat, and machinery repair, it also exposes them to accidents and tragedies. Woiwode relates these as he does the other bits of his past – in snippets peppered throughout the book – rather than long tragic episodes, which would have been hard to take.

Yet these bite-size chunks of memory pull the reader through: The first 25 pages are so riveting it's impossible to put this book down. Woiwode starts out on a sunny morning to make hay, turns back to fetch a jacket, and by the end of the morning his life has been changed forever.


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