Last fall, I attended the Wisconsin Writers Association’s annual conference, which was held in Superior.
Doug Lewandowski, a Duluth writer, introduced himself and told me about his book—a collection of related short stories about people and events in a small Minnesota town called Woman River. He was rather low-key and matter-of-fact about the book. He gave me a copy, free of charge. I promised I would take it home and read it.
Time went by.
You have no idea, Dear Reader, how many books I feel compelled to read—not only for my own enjoyment, but also in pursuit of my literary career. Woman River went to the bottom of my pile. Finally last week—about six months after Doug gave me the book—it reached the top of my pile.
POW! Take that, O smug, self-satisfied one-book wonder who brashly claims to be “Your New Favorite Writer”!
I was, as the Brits would say, gobsmacked.
Let me belatedly assure you Gentle Reader: Doug Lewandowski is the real McCoy. Woman River is a great book. I wish I could write like that.
So I’m passing this recommendation along to all my friends. Get hold of a copy of Doug Lewandowski’s Woman River and read it. You won’t be disappointed.
Here’s the review I posted on Goodreads.com a day or two after finishing the book:
The town of Woman River is filled with flawed people. They mostly smoke Luckies and drink Hamm’s beer—but it’s 1959, so that’s pretty normal. None of them sought to be flawed, but all of them want love. And—in a small but difficult miracle arranged by author Doug Lewandowski—we the reader get to see their love bulging from every wound and pressure point.
The book is a great affirmation of life with all its worries. One comes away feeling this is what writing is for.
Woman River is a novella built of short stories, each related to all the others as the varied residents are bound to one another by ties of affection, loyalty, and eternity.
A young farmer recoiling from a failed marriage pits his stern father against his lifegiving lover. The innkeeping couple face a dread illness with stoic devotion. The local pariah and the capable police chief share an affliction of combat stress. The town’s ethos revolves around its church, which comforts and challenges in equal measure. The priest clings to his precepts while falling under the spell of his gracious housekeeper, who must choose her own destiny.
The text could use a bit of proofreading, but the narrative is sure, deep, and compelling. As Midwest regional literature, this book might be compared to Nickolas Butler’s Shotgun Lovesongs, Michael Perry’s Pop. 485, or the works of the late David Rhodes. But I almost feel it’s the book Steinbeck would have written, rather than Tortilla Flat or Cannery Row, had he grown up in Minnesota, not California.
You should read Woman River. Don’t miss out on great writing.
I mean it. Read Woman River. You’ll be glad you did.
Larry F. Sommers
Your New Favorite Writer
Author of Price of Passage—A Tale of Immigration and Liberation.
Price of Passage
Norwegian Farmers and Fugitive Slaves in Pre-Civil War Illinois
(History is not what you thought.)