Nicole Lea Helget grew up on a farm near the small town of Sleepy Eye in south central Minnesota. The Summer of Ordinary Ways is a collection of well-crafted stories about her experiences as one of six daughters in a very dysfunctional family. It opens with a story that is so violent and disturbing that some readers will abandon the book. Those who can continue should. Helget has a lot more to say.
The rural world that Helget describes is filled with cruelty and lawlessness. Old men make moonshine and offer it to young girls. Grandmothers regret granddaughters for not being grandsons. Mothers whose children die in accidents are told, "Get over it! You can have more." Many animals die. The Helget and the Haalas families feud. There is even a story of premature burial as horrifying as the story by Edgar Allan Poe.
Throughout the book Helget has a keen sense of the land. She describes the sunlight, the wind, the spread of cottonwood seeds, the plowing of fields, and the transformation of paths into highways. Her family becomes a part of the landscape, from which escape becomes necessary.
The Summer of Ordinary Ways is a symmetrically balanced book. The final story is as disturbing as the first. You will have to read it to see what I mean.
Helget, Nicole Lea. The Summer of Ordinary Ways: A Memoir. St. Paul: Borealis Books, 2005. ISBN 0873515439