On All Sides Nowhere

In the twelve essays that make up On All Sides Nowhere: Building a Life in Rural Idaho, William Gruber relates his experiences as a resident of the rugged mountain country of Idaho during the 1970’s. Moving to the region from the East Coast to attend graduate school, Gruber purchased land and a cabin far from what most people would term “civilization.” During the six years he and his family lived in the region, Gruber learned much about the realities of living on the land, and about the people who leave the comforts of city life for the solitary places still extant in the Northwest. In his essays he gives readers a sense of the breathtaking landscapes of the area and of the travails that newcomers face when they decide to seek a more adventuresome life. He also provides insightful character sketches of the people who inhabit the mountainous land in northern Idaho, neighbors who find being within a few miles of each other no obstacle to occasional visits, and who are happy to stop even the most important tasks for conversation with passers-by.

It is easy to see why On All Sides Nowhere was awarded the Bakeless Prize for nonfiction by the Vermont Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference. Gruber demonstrates a strong command of language, and his simple prose is a welcome change from the normal fare of purple passages that clutter most writing about rural America.

Like most good nature writers, Gruber uses observations about the land as a lead-in to discussions of larger ecological, philosophical, or even theological issues. His training as a literary scholar is also put to good use. His text is peppered with allusions to William Shakespeare, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Steinbeck, Robert Frost, and a dozen other writers whose observations about humankind’s relation to the natural world have inspired generations of readers. Gruber’s essays are a welcome addition to a literary genre that is growing in popularity as America moves farther away from its frontier roots.