Introduction

The organization of Larry Woiwode’s autobiography is unconventional; instead of presenting a chronological, step-by-step account of his life, he presents a series of incidents from the past and present divided into two acts and an intermission. This pattern is suggested by the book’s subtitle, “A Season of Survival in Two Acts.” The main season of survival is the winter of 1996-1997, in which Larry Woiwode and his family must struggle not only with their isolation on a farm in southwestern North Dakota during savage storms and inclement weather, but also with learning (and overcoming) the inadequacies and vagaries of a newly installed outdoor wood-burning heater, which they had installed in hopes of becoming more self-sufficient. Interspersed throughout the first act are his early experiences: the meaning of his name; his birth in Carrington, North Dakota; his childhood in Sysketon, North Dakota; the early, traumatic death of his mother; and his move to Illinois.

The overall movement throughout the two juxtaposed narratives is from the past to the future, but past life and present struggle are linked by association or metaphor. The reader soon becomes used to the rhythm that propels each of the stories. Images in the present summon memories of the past: A tractor wheel in the rain recalls a summer of work on a farm. The title of the first act indicates its pulse: “Snow with Tints of Then.” It is a visual metaphor, with the tactile connotations that the word “snow” carries, as well as a linguistic play. The word “Snow” contains the word “now” and suggests that the storehouse of memory is an intricate puzzle box, the word nesting within the image, and the writer unpacking each carefully.

The second act’s title also reflects its structure: “Then with Tints of Snow.” It...

(The entire section is 740 words.)